Saturday, 27 April 2019

CD review: Olivier Latry and the organ of Notre-Dame de Paris

I don’t usually review CDs except at Christmas, but one new release has really caught my imagination. It’s the sound of the grand organ of Notre-Dame de Paris, played by Olivier Latry, captured in January this year.

And its magic, and poignancy, arise from the fact that it’s a sound that probably won’t be available to hear ‘live’ for some time to come.
Reports say that the unique and extraordinary five-manual organ – incorporating pipes from hundreds of years ago but still essentially the greatest Aristide Cavaillé-Coll ever built – was not destroyed by the fire at Easter, but that a lot of dust, and some water, have got in.
It’s a cause for relief that things were no worse, but the two most damaging things for pipe organ mechanisms are, of course, dust and water. Cleaning will no doubt have to be extensive – and there is still the question of how, and for how long, the rebuilding of the cathedral roof will be in progress.
Latry made this CD as one of a series for the adventurous French label La Dolce Volta – it has a whole variety of very personal albums by great artists to offer, particularly pianists and chamber musicians – and called it ‘Bach to the Future’.
It’s his idea of how Bach’s organ music can be made to sound using the resources of the great Cavaillé-Coll instrument. Forget ‘authenticity’ – playing Bach this way is a tradition in itself – Louis Vierne recorded some on this organ back in 1929, and Latry says he thinks of Liszt’s way of transcribing him, too.
The big blockbuster pieces sound quite overwhelming here: listen to the opening of the great G minor Fantasia and Fugue, or the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for instance. But there are others in which he exploits different aspects of the instrument: the gentle string sounds in the Herzlich tut mich verlangen (‘Passion chorale’) prelude, or the soulful prelude on Erbarm’ dich mein, O Herre Gott. The Notre-Dame organ even has a set of chimes that play on the pedals, and so he ding-dongs his way through In Dir ist Freude from the Orgelbüchlein.
For the three-movement G major Piece d’Orgue he finds a set of French plein-jeu and grands-jeux sounds (and makes no apologies for a long and huge crescendo in the middle section), and in the Ricercare a 6 from The Musical Offering he solos some of the lines on particular manuals. The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor is a tremendous essay in build-ups.
In a way he’s having fun – most of these pieces are ones that organists love to play and organ music fans love to hear, and they sound terrific played on almost anything, but even more so on the great music machine of M. Cavaillé-Coll. 
The presentation of the album is luxurious, with its own little box and a lavishly illustrated booklet. 
La Dolce Volta say they are planning to donate part of the profits from this CD to the reconstruction of the cathedral.

Bach to the Future: Olivier Latry, Grandes Orgues Cavaillé-Coll de Notre-Dame de Paris (La Dolce Volta LDV 69)


Olivier Latry at the organ of Notre-Dame de Paris

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