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Keyboard Thursday album review: Olivier Latry dazzles at the organ of Notre-Dame in Paris

By John Terauds on August 8, 2013

 

Olivier Latry at the brand-new organ console at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Olivier Latry at the brand-new organ console at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.

To celebrate the 850th anniversary of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, its titular organist Olivier Latry has put together a spectacular showcase of music written or improvised by the institution’s keyboard masters.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds

Released by France’s Naïve label, Three Centuries of Organ Music at Notre Dame de Paris contains 14 pieces, ranging from a reflective piece by Guillaume-Antoine Calvière (1685-1755) to a spiky 4-1/2 minute improvisation by Latry on a Salve Regina plainchant.

orgueAmong the cathedral’s greatest composer-organists was Louis Vierne, hired in 1900 at age 30 and who died at the instrument, in the middle of a concert, in 1937.

Ironically, given his near-blindness, Vierne represents the height of multicoloured creativity with the instrument’s many tonal options, which range over five keyboards plus pedals.

Latry’s predecessor, Pierre Cochereau (1924-1984), is responsible for a fabulous Boléro, which transforms the sacred instrument into a virtual Wurlitzer theatre organ.

One of the church’s assistant organists, Jean-Pierre Leguay, who is a generation older than Latry, is represented by three modernist Préludes that also feature percusssion.

Included on the disc is one of the famous Noëls by Louis-Claude Daquin (1694-1772) and two marches from the French Revolution set by Claude Balbastre (1727-1799).

Latry, who has set alight the organ at Roy Thomson Hall in ways few other organists can, is a master at subtle, gradual, transformation of sound and atmosphere. There isn’t a dull moment in these 75 minutes of spectacular musicmaking.

For all the details, as well as the opportunity to sample the audio, click here.

This is the making-of video:

Having won the job at Notre-Dame in a competition when he was only 23, Latry has had nearly 30 years to play around in this musical sandbox. This is one of his Sunday-morning improvisations at the old organ console:

The cathedral has spent a lot of money in a series of ongoing renovations to the instrument for its big anniversary. The names of 52 titular organists have been recorded in the gallery since a pipe organ was first installed in the 15th century. The church also says about 2,000 visiting organists have had an opportunity to play the full “symphonic” organ, built in 1868 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

If you can read French, you can find out more about the cathedral and its organ(s) here.

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds

John Terauds, Editor-Emeritus of Ludwig van Toronto, is currently a Divinity student at the University of Toronto and a church music director. He joined the Toronto Star in 1988, was the classical music critic from 2005 to 2012, and continues as a freelance critic for the paper. He is the co-author of Roy Thomson Hall: A Portrait, a book written with Toronto Star Colleague, William Littler.
John Terauds
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