Disc Man

Paul Jacobs, Piano: The Legendary Busoni Recordings (Arbiter) Paul Jacobs (1930-1983) focused much of his life on his birthplace, New York City. One of the first classical artists to die from AIDS, his famed Nonesuch recordings from 1976 to 1979 have just received 24-bit restoration on two Arbiter CDs. Jacobs was appointed official pianist of the New York Philharmonic by Leonard Bernstein in 1961; he also became the NYPO's harpsichordist in 1974. Known primarily for performing 20th-century repertoire, Jacobs premiered works by Stockhausen, Berio, Henze, Messiaen, Carter, and Sessions. His mastery led composer Aaron Copland to refer to him as "more than a pianist. He brings to his piano playing a passion for the contemporary, and a breadth of musical and general culture such as is rare."

The first disc is devoted mainly to piano 鴵des: Busoni's Six Short Pieces for the Cultivation of Polyphonic Playing (1923); Stravinsky's Four ɴudes, op. 7 (1908); Bart� ɴudes, op. 18 (1918); and Messiaen's Four Rhythmic Studies (1949). Then follow Busoni's six Sonatinas for Piano. Written over a 10-year span, the catchy No. 6 (1920) is based on themes from Bizet's Carmen. The disc concludes with the organ chorale preludes of Bach and Brahms, as arranged by Busoni.

This is absorbing music, performed by a gifted pianist taken from us much too soon. Thirteen pages of Jacobs' notes to the original recordings add greatly to appreciating these. Though the sound is a bit dry on many of the recordings—Nonesuch was initially a bargain label—the quality of the superb playing more than compensates.


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