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The thrills that this pipe organ deserves

March 21, 2007|Josef Woodard | Special to The Times

Of Walt Disney Concert Hall's widely touted virtues, too little is made of the magnificent integrated pipe organ. Every visitor knows about the instrument's visual splendor, but to hear it in action at the hands of a formidable organist is one of the more awesome musical experiences in modern-day Los Angeles.

One avid fan of this organ is young virtuoso Paul Jacobs, who gushed about the impressive instrument he was concertizing on Sunday night as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's organ series. "There's nothing like it in the world," he said. "There's nothing like it in New York."

Jacobs sat down at the console center stage and promptly summoned a bountiful, bone-rattling swarm of sound with Mendelssohn's Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Opus 65, No. 1. It's a thrilling and full-bodied piece and was played accordingly.

At the program's center was Bach, that nucleus of organ musical culture to whom Jacobs has a strong and abiding connection. On the 250th anniversary of Bach's birth, in 2000, he performed the composer's complete organ works in an 18-hour marathon in Pittsburgh. On Sunday, he tackled the multi-limb challenge of the Trio Sonata No. 6 in G, BWV 530, in which each hand and foot is kept actively, contrapuntally engaged. Sublime in its musical intricacy, the sonata is also a tour de force.

Jacobs pushed the instrument to denser limits with Max Reger's "Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H." Lacking the musical elegance of its dedicatee, though, Reger's piece falls into the realm of the bombastic. Jacobs also tapped a lesser-known corner of the organ repertoire for a moving version of "The 94th Psalm" by Julius Reubke, a pupil of Lizst.

If there was a downside here, it was Jacobs' leaning toward the big and splashy, as if wanting to see what a coveted machine could do on the open road. Apart from Mendelssohn's Adagio, we had minimal exposure to the gentler, ethereal end of the instrument's sonic spectrum. Yet in two encores bringing things back to Bach, the performer's obvious enthusiasm and technical prowess were infectious.

Jacobs is precisely what the organ scene needs right now: a dynamic young virtuoso who stands to further popularize this mighty, venerable and underexposed instrument.

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