"Step aside, Hugh Jackman. If anyone deserves to be called the greatest showman, it’s organ virtuoso Paul Jacobs, who returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra this past weekend for the local premiere of a witty, memorable work written specifically for him."
"No stranger to Philadelphia audiences, Jacobs performed with the orchestra on the mighty Fred J. Cooper Memorial Organ, and one could not imagine a more colorful, thrilling and artistically nuanced presentation. Jacobs is a showman in the best possible sense, exploring and exploiting all the possibilities of this king of instruments, but always in the service of the composer’s intent."
"Time to say something about Jacobs’s playing? It was superb. From the first page or two, you knew that this was a man who knew what he was doing. Jacobs is no-nonsense. He does not fuss over music or cute it up. He just plays it, straightforwardly and rightly. His judgment is well-nigh unerring. He has fabulous fingers (and feet). If you were releasing a recording of Tuesday night’s recital, you would not have to doctor it at all. There was scarcely a missed note. Jacobs has an acute sense of rhythm—crucial in a musician, and maybe especially in an organist. He knows how to deal with dynamics, colors—everything.
Let me stress again his stringency. You will never hear playing less airy-fairy or namby-pamby. Yet it is never insensitive. Sitting there, I thought, “He is like a Szell of the organ.” If George Szell, the great conductor, had been an organist, he would have played like Paul Jacobs. I cannot render higher praise than that.
He played an encore, and it was the Widor Toccata. By this is meant the final movement—the toccata—of the Organ Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor. Funny, but during the toccata by Duruflé, I thought, 'I wonder what it would be like to hear Jacobs play the Widor Toccata.'
What was it like? Like you, perhaps, I have heard this piece 568 times. Never quite like this. It was bracing, inexorable, heart-stopping (and heart-swelling at the same time). It was a divine delirium. Your bones rattled—literally. (I am talking about physical sensations.) Never have I been more aware of the poverty of a recording, any recording. Paul Jacobs played the Toccata with the stringency, the tenderness, and the élan that the piece requires. (I am taking the technique for granted, which one should not.) Afterward, audience members kept asking one another, 'What was that? What was that piece?' Widor, I believe, would have been tickled.
I left the church with a feeling of elation. Rarely do you get a musical experience—or any, I would think—so thrilling."
© Fran Kaufmann
"Jacobs played [Olivier Messiaen's Messe de la Pentecôte] with a seamless sounding sympathy, gliding through the haunting, spooky passages of isolated timbres and bird calls floating above a cloud of harmonies, at other times playing with such terror and technical skill that the music sounded improvised on the spot. One was again impressed with Jacobs’ orchestral choices, which sounded right for the music, including the crystalline descending cadences that sounded like angels gliding down from the heavens..."
“Consider this experiment a success. In collaboration with the orchestra, organist Paul Jacobs gave a colorful, bewitching performance that surely did justice to the score and exemplified each of the Classical Elements Deutsch sought to depict.”
“In other places, and over long stretches, he imbues the piece with a shy ease and tames the mighty force of his instrument. He favors adding color to the work rather than overpowering the audience with volume.”
“Paul Jacobs displayed sparkling fingers in the cadential passages but kept his most dazzling work for the Bach fugue that he played solo as an encore.”
"The soloist, Paul Jacobs, drew some uncanny sounds — church bells! — from the Severance Hall organ, and managed to shape the music into something nearly coherent."
"...[Jacobs] finished off the evening with perhaps the most lucid reading you’ll ever hear of Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the Huguenot chorale “Ad nos, ad salutarem undam” from Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Le prophète.
Masterfully mixing the registers of the E.M. Skinner organ and making subtle stop changes as the piece went on, Jacobs finally shifted into overdrive, and flicking a fingernail across the organ’s row of coupler tabs to command its full power, brought Liszt’s fantasy to an exultant conclusion."
"Still, if anything pushed Saturday over the top, near the "ecstatic" realm, it was the presence at night's end of organist Paul Jacobs. Playing the Norton Memorial Organ (with pipes partially exposed by the set of "Tristan and Isolde"), the virtuoso held the house in the palm of his hand with an epic Fantasy and Fugue by Liszt...
...Amazingly, Jacobs didn't stop there. Shortly after applause began, the artist hushed his already won-over crowd anew with the fugue from Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532. The word for that? Marvelous."
"Jacobs thoughtfully colored and shaped the music’s numerous descriptive effects with expressive precision that brought out the music’s natural wit, but more important, its purpose... ...If this was musical stand-up comedy, then Jacobs beautifully articulated and shaped the jokes but didn’t punch them so hard that they lost their inner humanity. Or animal impulsiveness."
"Paul Jacobs was cooly and totally in control of his solo role, efficiently changing registrations both by presets and quick, elegant stop pulling and retiring. His choice of combinations created fine balances with the ensemble, and his sensitive manipulation of the instrument’s swell shades helped meld the sound of the organ with the orchestra. His tireless repetition of toccata figures propelled the final movement, and his flawless pedal solos added flair to the performance."
"To the aptly labeled finale Jacobs brought all his considerable virtuosity and zeal to bear, delivering a sparkling performance, especially at the pedals, that thrilled in both visceral and artistic terms."
"Organ soloist Paul Jacobs showed great taste and precision in accentuating and contrasting the instrument with the orchestra. Even though the cadenza is one of the quietest you’re likely to encounter, Jacobs made it speak with clarity."
"Jacobs was virtuosic: Oquin, watching from the audience near me, was on the edge of his seat."
"The temptation with BWV 565 can be to blast the audience from start to finish with aggressive registration. It’s such an iconic work that some people are expecting organ bombast. Jacobs’ approach to registration for the Toccata was different: He tended to layer, adding stops one or two at a time to enhance or decrease the total effect of the rhapsodic runs and labored triplets. Though, much to our delight, the Toccata was not without drama. The diminished chords were complemented by timbrally gritty registration combinations that buzzed with tremendous energy and verve."
"Jacobs was astounding in his technique at both manuals and pedals—his orchestral registrations filling out the piece in a way that blended almost imperceptibly with the orchestra, supplying those missing woodwind sonorities."
- Charles T. Downey, Washington Classical Review, May 12, 2017
"Soloist Paul Jacobs had the piece thoroughly in hand (and feet), and rewarded us with a bustling Bach encore."
"...Jacobs showed breathtaking virtuosity in Daugherty’s Concerto. The interplay between orchestra and organ was electrifying, and highest praise goes to both performer and composer for a compelling and commanding musical trek. Jacobs returned in a sparkling solo encore of Bach’s Sinfonia from Cantata No. 29.
Both in Saint-Saëns and Rouse, organist Jacobs delivered subtle shifts in sound that had an infallible sense of rightness with the music at hand. He also let it rip with a crisp, fast, high-virtuosity encore, Widor's "Toccata" from his Symphony No. 5. The audience was suitably wowed.
Jacobs led by example, the organ nearly always at the forefront of the limited thematic material, layering, trading, and subverting lines in intricate fugal passages, emphasizing the instrument’s timbral variety. While the full throttle passages stunned, the softer moments — with the solo line sounding nearly magical, supported by tutti cellos, or the violins playing in sweet response to the organ’s thick, reedy tone — were the performance’s defining features.
Whether interacting subtly with individual musicians or letting the organ rip in regal displays with the full ensemble, Jacobs displayed perfect senses of balance and registration in addition to technical fluidity and musical insight. Through often strange, winding, and unpredictable territory, the organist proved an assured and compelling guide, taking care to point out all the music's curious wonders.
At any rate, the Liszt work, based on a theme from Meyerbeer’s opera “Le Prophète,” offered almost as much to watch as to hear, with its virtuosic peregrinations over the keyboards and pedals. It was touching to see Mr. Jacobs use all his weight and force to squeeze every ounce of sound out of the grand final chord.
Nowhere is this evident more than in Mozart’s K. 616 Andante, written for a mechanical organ that was essentially a toy, which Jacobs managed to make significant while completely conveying its slightly antic, slightly fey artlessness.
Jacobs, head of the organ department at the Juilliard School of Music, can’t have left many sounds unexplored. Playing a major program from memory, with both assurance and panache, he commanded everything from merest whisper to massive roar and rumble without a moment’s hesitation... Jacobs’ playing fairly pulsed with rhythmic energy... Even quiet stream-of-consciousness musings in Max Reger’s gigantic Introduction, Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme (Op. 73) were always going somewhere... That Jacobs made the piece a compelling experience was evident in the roaring, and well-deserved, ovation.
A virtuoso of dazzling technical acumen…He built up a wonderfully organic crescendo in which the music expanded in all dimensions — brightness, clarity and volume — until it filled the room with a pulsating, radiant cloud of sound.
Jacobs displayed all of his virtuosity and intelligence in a solo postlude… Great organists manipulate the line to give the machine a human voice. At the close of the fugue, there is a rapid-fire pedal cadenza, which tempts the player to show off fast footwork. Jacobs, secure in his technique, artfully slowed down toward the end of the passage, achieving a sensation of broadening—of a new vista opening. A lightning strike of thirty-second notes followed in the treble. In all, it was an obliterating performance by one of the major musicians of our time.
Paul Jacobs is one of the great living virtuosos. If you haven’t heard of him, it’s because his instrument is the organ, which is not the most frequently featured instrument in a concert setting. It also may be because he is utterly without artifice: still in his 30s, he projects a cherubic boyishness and freshness. In his NSO debut, he sat at the console of the Rubenstein Family Organ and played with a kind of serenity that belied the intricacy of the registrations with which he pulled a rainbow of sounds out of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in a minor. I have seldom heard an orchestral audience leap to its feet and whoop at a solo organ piece, but the adulation was well deserved.
This for a most appealing evening of works by Reger and Bach, performed by Paul Jacobs on the Holtkamp pipe organ in Paul Hall at the Juilliard School on Wednesday. Happily, Mr. Jacobs, a personable speaker as well as performer, offered his own take on Reger from the stage, calling him a composer “near and dear to my heart.” Then he showed why.
He started with a work he would ordinarily use at the end, he said, Reger’s wildly virtuosic tribute to Bach, the Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H (those letters, in the German musical alphabet, representing the notes B flat, A, C, B natural). Mr. Jacobs had spoken of Reger’s wit and irony, which came through beautifully in the simple hushed start of the fugue, soon to grow loud, hectic and huge.
The audience — by now Reger lovers all, it seemed — responded with a clamorous ovation.
Jacobs’s playing is at once brilliant, philosophical, and painterly. You can particularly hear it in his registration, the way he chooses and mixes stops to create color. Alongside the organ’s customary vibrancy and horsepower, Jacobs will juxtapose combinations of unusual lucidity, the instrument’s sonic possibilities glimpsed like a clear, deep pool. He approaches the organ the way, say, Carl Sagan approached the universe: blissfully revealing its infinitude.
Matthew Gurewitsch, Yale Alumni Magazine, May-June 2014
Three brief selections from Messiaen’s “Livre du Saint Sacrement” showed the particular mastery Jacobs has over this composer’s works — his recording of this collection having won him a Grammy in 2011. The tinkling bells of the Zimbelstern stop were magical in “Le Dieu Caché,” the amassed cluster chords in “La Présence Multipliée” induced stained-glass-color hallucinations in my brain, and the repetitions and rhythmic stretching of the “Prière Après la Communion” seemed to suspend time.
I've heard many organists handle those wild moments when three or four separate parts are happening simultaneously. But I haven't heard too many do that as musically as when Mr. Jacobs gracefully played the melody of the Sicilienne from Duruflé's Suite, Op. 5, while the other hand flew up and down the manual in fast scales and his feet walked a completely different rhythm… The afternoon was just another sign of what a special artist—and leader—Mr. Jacobs has become.