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No one could have imagined, of course, how close this would come to being the last-ever recording of the Notre-Dame organ. The evolved instrument (the CD bills it as the ‘Cavaillé-Coll organ of Notre-Dame de Paris’), unlike its jealously guarded sibling at Saint-Sulpice, seems almost in the last 70 years to have become more legendary through the people associated with it than through its actual substance. However attractive the moniker of ‘encyclopaedia of French organ building’ and however bewitching many of its effects, it no longer speaks with the same true unity of purpose as its illustrious neighbour. Here it, and Bach, provide the means of expression for the unique imagination of Olivier Latry. Inevitably a ‘marmite’ disc (hence the three stars; most will either love or loathe it), Latry’s modus operandi in transcribing Bach for the unique circumstances of Notre-Dame is nonetheless entirely logical, planned with phenomenal precision and played brilliantly and expressively, even without the superimposed kaleidoscope of expressionist colour. At no stage does mere virtuosity ever get in the way, tempi are never too fast and some of the approach is quite orthodox; Pièce d’orgue proceeds as one might expect before every layer of reeds (chamades included) is gradually added to the plein jeu. BWV 565 references Stokowski; its massive contrasts slightly grotesque, BWV 542 includes additions from Liszt’s piano transcription. In Dir ist Freude includes bells, Herzlich tut mich verlangen is a wash of celestes, almost Fox-esque. Does Bach survive? Sure, and if we take this as a one-off, like the organ itself, you can’t help but admire Latry for his re-imaginings of this most familiar music. The booklet, incidentally, is beautifully produced.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica


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