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CD Review: Helmut C. Jacobs: Recital

Helmut C. Jacobs, accordion


Andante in F major, KV616: W. A. Mozart (1756-1791)

Three Flutepieces, Hob. XIX, 28-30: Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)


Romanze in A minor (1904): Max Reger (1873-1916)

Pieces from Scènes pittoresques: Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)

Plaisanterie (French)
Capriccio (Spanish)
Festlichkeit in Dorfe (Norwegian)
Sage (Finnish)
Volksweise (Polish)
Alla Zingaresca (Hungarian)

Three Toccatas (1985/6): Jürg Baur (b. 1918)

Ritmico-alla marcia

Paganiniana (1951): Hans Brehme (1904-1957)
"Concert Etudes in the form of variations on a theme by Paganini"

Thema; 1. Perpetuum mobile; 2. Toccata I; 3. Invention I; 4. Capriccio; 5. Presto; 6. Invention II; 7. Allegro con strepito; 8. Mit großer Bravour und Energie; 9. Andante; 10. Fantasia; 11. Lebhaft und sehr bestimmt; 12. Serenade; 13. Capriccio II; 14. Toccata II; 15. Moderato; 16. Scherzino I; 17. Scherzino II; 18. Rhapsodie; 19. Molto allegro.

Total time: 63:45
Released in 1988
Review Date: April 2000

Label: Augemus Musikverlag CD8035 Ralf Kaupenjohann
Bleckstr. 1a
D-44809 Bochum

Telephone: 0 54 01 / 85 12 75
Fax: 0 54 01 / 85 12 99

Review by Gregory A. Vozar

Helmut C. Jacobs's compact disc Recital is a good example of what happens when a competent musician sets out to create a concert program that will demonstrate and challenge both his instrument and musicianship. On this album he has chosen to play works of three contemporaneous pairs of German-speaking composers, exploring music dating from the eighteenth to the late-twentieth centuries.

The disc opens with four appealing Classical works. The first piece, 'Andante' in F Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was composed in 1791 for a small clockwork organ called a Flötenuhr. This is followed by Franz Joseph Haydn's Drei Flötenuhrstücke ('Three Pieces for Musical Clock'), published during the latter composer's tenure at the court of Prince Esterházy. Haydn adapted movements of earlier works in order to provide his royal patron with this refined means of ringing the hours. More recently, such pieces have become popular with concert accordionists due to the grace with which they translate to the free-reed medium.

Elegant and articulate, Jacobs plays these pieces with an attention to detail that belies their mechanical provenance. Given that his accordion is capable of a greater degree of dynamic expression than a barrel organ, the performer uses all means at his disposal to accentuate the contours and the linear flow of the music. Opinions are likely to vary as to how much of this is historically appropriate, but for me this is a relatively chaste performance, unaffected by too many anachronistic affects. Jacobs takes few liberties beyond what string or wind players might.

Recital now visits the first decade of the twentieth century and the music of composers Max Reger and Sigfrid Karg-Elert. These particular works were intended for the harmonium, and here the accordion does an excellent job at providing the correct timbre for the music. Reger's introspective 'Romanze' in A Minor (his only harmonium composition) begins and ends with cool restraint, but the mid section blossoms warmly with the complex modulations and harmonies for which this composer is noted. After his thoughtful musing, the opening bars of Karg-Elert's 'Plaisanterie' have the immediacy of bright pennants floating on a breeze. This is the first of six splendidly played vignettes from this composer's Scènes Pittoresques, each of which is meant to be a musical portrait of a different foreign land or people. Karg-Elert, a superb colorist, understood the warm potential of free-reed tone better than any other composer I have heard; both he and Helmut Jacobs are at their most expressive in these miniatures.

Jürg Baur composed his somewhat academic 'Three Toccatas' at the behest of the Society of German Accordion Instructors, and Jacobs gave the premier performance in April of 1986. In spite of the studious care the artist invests in his recorded interpretations, these toccatas seem less comfortable on the accordion than the Haydn and Mozart, even though the latter works were not written with this instrument in mind! On occasion Baur's music seems to want for more contrast and a bigger sound than free-reeds and bellows can deliver.

The final work of this concert-on-disc, Paganiniana, came from the pen of Hans Brehme, a composer whose mid-twentieth century works added materially to the accordion's concert repertoire. This particular composition was one of the first to specifically require the use of free-basses on the left-hand manual. Listening to these pieces, it is clear that the composer fully understood the accordion's idiosyncrasies and skillfully utilized them in his music. Brehme took as his theme a familiar extract from one of Nicolò Paganini's Caprices and followed it with nineteen concert etudes or variations. These range from simple counterpoint to bravura showpieces and employ a variety of compositional techniques. Jacobs displays his virtuoso's mettle by playing the original, unpublished version of the work, which makes even greater demands upon the performer than those of the published 1952 edition.

Polish and style are the enviable qualities Helmut Jacobs brings to the accordion, particularly when playing the music of Sigfrid Karg-Elert, a composer in whom he specializes. His exemplary technique is in evidence on every piece that he has recorded here. Only an occasional hiccup intrudes upon the overall security of his playing; that occurs when he changes bellows direction in the middle of a phrase. This is a nearly inescapable part of playing the instrument, especially when the music cannot be molded around the limitations of the accordion's air supply. In the Haydn, Mozart, Baur and Brehme works, this is not a problem, but with the lengthy phrases in the Karg-Elert and Reger pieces, it occasionally intrudes.

Previously released as Paganiniana, this compact disc has been on the market a respectable twelve years. I can only attribute its longevity to the vital quality of Helmut Jacobs's playing and the engaging, resourceful program he has assembled. After a number of years on my own record shelf, the quality of the recording and the fine musicianship are still sources of refreshment to my ears. It is a mystery why such an obviously talented musician should have gone on to record only one other solo concert album. [Readers may read a review of that recording on this website by clicking on this link: Sigfrid Karg-Elert: Compositions for Harmonium] For whatever reason Jacobs ceased solo recording, I am grateful for these two fine discs, and will hope for future releases by the same artist.

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