Paul Jacobs's 1970s recordings of Debussy's Preludes for Nonesuch have been added to The NPR Classical 50 list of essential recordings. On the show, critic Ted Libbey calls them "quite remarkable" and dubs Jacobs "the gold standard for the piano music of Debussy." Says Libbey of the Preludes: "What you hear is so extraordinary."
Paul Jacobs, the late pianist and harpsichordist for the New York Philharmonic, recorded the piano works of composer Claude Debussy for Nonesuch Records in the 1970s, albums that were later reissued on CD in the 1980s. The NPR Classical 50, a weekly series from NPR recommending "50 essential recordings for everyone from first-timers to fanatics," this week adds to the list Jacobs's Nonesuch recordings of the Debussy Preludes, "little pieces that had a big influence on the music world," says host Fred Child.
Music critic Ted Libbey explains just what made these pieces so remarkable for the time in which Debussy wrote them, the early 20th century, and why Jacobs's take remain the singular account.
"What you hear is so extraordinary," Libbey exclaims. "The ability of the piano to sustain tones and harmonies, to float in the air and to entreat the ear in an entirely new way really is something remarkable, and it comes out very well in these recordings."
Adding to the distinguishing factors of Jacobs's performances, and what makes him "the gold standard for the piano music of Debussy," are the recording techniques and instrument used on the Nonesuch recordings. These elicit a sound "very much like the piano sound that Debussy himself got," Libbey explains. "I find the way that Jacobs utilizes this sound is ideal for this music ... quite remarkable, really."
You can listen to the NPR Classical 50 segment, along with two of the Preludes from the Nonesuch recordings—"The Sunken Cathedral" and "Minstrels"—at npr.org. The complete collection of the Preludes, Books I and II, is available as a high-quality, 320 kbps MP3 album in the Nonesuch Store.