“Bach to the Future” – Olivier Latry (Grand Organ of Notre Dame of Paris) [Tracklist below] – La Dolce Volta LDV 69, 77:37 ****:
How you feel about this recording will likely mirror your feelings about how Bach should be performed in general. For me, I love the Stokowski transcriptions and the Liszt reworkings, and the Carlos electronica. In fact, Bach seems to be one of the few composers who can take a licking and keep on ticking, at least from the orchestration and broadness of interpretative fantasy. This does not mean that he can stand bad performances or outlandish stretching. But for those who were raised on the likes of Helmut Walcha, this release will likely come as more than disappointing, perhaps even heretical or blasphemous.
This is a shame, for it is the last recording done on the famous Cavaille-Coll organ of Notre Dame Cathedral before the devastating fire last April. Though it is said that the organ survived, no one is really going to be able to ascertain the situation until the building is restored, everything is cranked up, and a recording made—not, sadly, anytime soon. The organ itself is not what most would consider a “Bach” organ, because its vast resources and the reverberance of the cathedral itself lend to a mushing of the counterpoint. Nevertheless, it is a honey of an instrument, and though Bach might have written a different way for it, this doesn’t mean that he should be banned from the premises.
Enter Olivier Latry, who is/was titular organist in Notre Dame from the young age of 23, and who has no qualms about Bach interpretation/reinterpretation at all. In fact, the above mentioned Stoky and Liszt efforts are inspirations in his mind, and he doesn’t hesitate to use all the volume and swells necessary to get his points across. Some things work better than others—the famous Toccata and Fugue in g sound a little outer space like to me, though the Passacaglia and Fugue in c is quite brilliant. Registration choices will shock some. The program mix is good, giving a wonderful demonstration of Latry’s hits and misses, and the inherent power in Bach’s work.
So, while I would not recommend this as a “first” Bach recording for anyone, those feeling nostalgic about Notre Dame—and who doesn’t—or those wanting to hear the sonic dexterity that an amazing organist can create on an amazing organ should not hesitate to give this an audition.
Organ Works by Bach, including:
Ricercar a 6, BWV 1079
Fugue in g, BWV 578
Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV 565
Chorale “Erbarm’ dich mein, o Herre Gott”, BWV 721
Fantasie in g, BWV 542
In dir ist Freude, BWV 617
Chorale “Herzlich tut mich verlangen”, BWV 727
Organ piece, BWV 572
Passacaglia and Fugue in c, BWV 582