Friday 7 June 2013

Olivier Latry - Trois Siecles d'Orgue at Notre-dame de Paris

On 12 December 2012, after 10 months' restoration work and silence, the great organ of Notre Dame de Paris – the largest in France, with five keyboards, 115 stops and nearly 8,000 pipes – opened the festivities for the cathedral's 850th anniversary. This disc, recorded in the cathedral in January 2013, seems to have been designed to celebrate this fact though in fact the disc keeps the fact of organ's restoration well hidden. Olivier Latry, one of the current organists at Notre Dame de Paris, has assembled an attractive programme of music written by his predecessors. Many of the names are little known, Nicolas Sejean, Guillaume Antoine Calviere, Louis-Claude Daquin, Claude Balbaster, Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier, Alexandre Guilmant, Louis Vierne, Jean-Pierre Leguay, Pierre Cochereau and Olivier Latry himself. The number of names is quite high partly because in the 18th century the cathedral operated a rota system with four organists doing three months duty each.

The instrument has been through a variety of metamorphoses. The early instrument was heavily rebuilt in 1730 whenFrancois Thierry enlarged it to five manuals, controlling more than 45 stops. In 1788 Francois-Henri Cliquot did a complete overhaul of the organ, enlarging it considerably but retaining much of Thierry's pipe work. In the 19th century, during the reign of Eugene Sergent, the organ was overhauled by Aristide Cavaille-Coll. The re-build included numerous technological advances, though Sergent was unable to really take advantage of them as he was a very poor organist. Under Pierre Cochereau, who was appointed in 1954, the organ underwent many transformations. Cavaille-Coll's structure was retained but it was enlarged from eight-eight to one hundred and three stops, and equipped with an electric console.

The pieces on the disc essentially form into two groups, those from the late 18th century and those by 20th and 21st century organists; in between there was a long period when the post of organist went nonentities. The final two works on the disc are both improvisations, reflecting the importance that this skill has with organists in the French tradition.

Latry opens with Noel Suisse by Nicholas Sejean (1745 - 1819) who became organist in 1772 (succeeding Daquin) and stayed until 1793.  The piece is charming, and Latry uses it to display both the striking organ registrations as well as his own incredible facility in the passagework of the fast variation. Next comes Piece d'orge by Guillaume Antoine Calvaire (1695 - 1755),  appointed in 1730; it was he who engaged Francois Thierry to re-build the instrument. This has a rather neo-classical feel to it, and Latry gives it character with some nasally reedy registrations.

Louis-Claude Daquin (1694 - 1772) was one of a group of four organists appointed to succeed Calvaire, when the chapter decided to use the 'par quartier' system with each organist doing three months per year. He was famous for his Livre de Noels as well as his harpsichord pieces. His Noel, grand-jeu at duo uses variations on the French Christmas carol Quand Dieu naquit en Judee. It has a perky charm.

Claude Balbastre (1727 - 1799) was named organist in 1760 and was highly famous for his Noels (to the extend that they were banned from Midnight Mass when he was organist at St. Roch). His Marche des Marseillois et l'air Ca ira is dedicated to the Citizens of the Republic and portrays the combat, flight of enemy troops, canon fire and victory songs. Latry points out in his liner notes that it was this type of music which essentially saved French organs from destruction at this time. Both organs, and organists, made themselves useful playing revolutionary anthems. The piece is a complete delight and the composer creates some truly outrageous variations which Latry plays with complete aplomb.

Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier (1734  1794) was a prolific composer who was organist from 1783 to 1793, he too composed the fashionable Noels. His Noels en Tambourin is the final noel on the disc. It is another piece of great charm using very high registrations.

From 1802, when freedom of conscience was restored and the cathedral was reopened for worship, the authorities returned to the scheme of having just a single organist.

Alexandre Guilmant (1837 - 1911) was named as honorary organist in 1902 at the suggestion of Vierne, who was organist at the time. Latry plays the final movement from his Sonate No. 1 (1874), a brilliantly dramatic work actually conceived for the Cavaille-Coll organ at La Trinite. Latry is dazzling in the fast passagework, providing a nice contrast with the quieter moments.

Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937) was appointed in 1900 after a competitive examination. He died in 1937, during a recital at Notre Dame. He is represented by three movements from his Pieces de Fantaisie (1926/27) -  Clair de lune, Feux follets (Wills O'the Wisp) and Carillon de Westminster. The three are all sophisticated, rather mysterious pieces. Clair de lune starts with a sinuous, chromatic melody over a low drone and Vierne's moonlight is clear and evocative. Feux follets are, of course, fast, mysterious and quiet with Latry's playing rather evoking the flickering of flames. The Westminster Chimes are first heard in the distance, clearly through a great deal of London fog, but Latry brings things to a fabulous climax.

Jean-Pierre Leguay (born 1939) was one of the four organists appointed in 1985, chosen by open competition, when the cathedral returned to the rota system after the death of Cochereau. Latry plays preludes 9, 7 and 8 from Leguay's Dix-neuf Preludes (1965-1975). All three share the same, very distinctive sound world which is quietly atmospheric with a particular timbre. The dramatic climax of the second prelude rather evokes Messiaen at times.

Pierre Cochereau (1924 - 1984)  was appointed in 1954, he was an outstanding improviser and his Bolero sur un Theme de Charles Racquet was improvised in 1973. It is here played in a transcription by the organists son Jean-Marc Cochereau. The theme is one by Charles Racquet who was appointed organist at Notre Dame in 1618. The bolero use the percussion to tap out the bolero rhythm which inevitably links the work with that of Ravel. It starts very quietly and goes through a slow build until the poerful climax two thirds of the way through, then amazingly the music evaporates.

Olivier Latry (born 1962) was also one of the four organists appointed in 1985, only 23 at the time it catapulted him to fame. His concluding improvisation is both dramatic and brilliant, bringing the disc to a suitable close.

Noticeable throughout this disc is the very distinctive timbre and sound quality of the organ itself. Repeatedly Latry uses this to great effect, and whilst not every piece on the disc is a masterpiece they all sound quite fabulous.

Trois Siecles d'Orgue at Notre-dame de Paris

Nicolas Sejean (1745 - 1819) - Noel Suisse [8.50]
Guillaume Antoine Calviere (1695 - 1755) - Piece d'Orgue [2.32]
Louis-Claude Daquin (1694 - 1772) - Noel, Grand Jeu et Duo [5.59]
Alexandre Guilmant (1837 - 1911) - Final (from Sonate no. 1) [7.10]
Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937) - Pieces de Fantaisie (excerpts) [21.27]
Jean-Pierre Leguay (born 1939) - Dix-neuf Preludes (excerpts) [5.30]
Pierre Cochereau (1924 - 1984) - Bolero [12.45] (1)
Olivier Latry (born 1962) - Improvisation [4.28]
Olivier Latry (organ)
Emmanuel Curt (percussion) (1)
Florent Jodelet (percussion) (1)
NAIVE V5338 1 CD [71.17]

Recorded in January 2013 at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

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