Bach to the future
Olivier Latry’s program of J.S. Bach on Notre Dame’s Cavaillé-Coll organ is astonishing in its own right. But just a month after the album was released in March 2019, Notre Dame was engulfed in flames and Bach to the Future took on an added poignancy. Here was the strident, complex and poetic voice of an instrument many feared had been recorded for the last time, and which would never be heard in the same way again. After a few agonizing weeks, however, news came that the “grand orgue” had suffered very little damage (unlike the nave’s choir organ, which was obliterated by water and falling debris). Notre Dame’s majestic organ, originally designed for free improvisation and for large, 19th-century symphonic music by Vierne, Widor, and the like, is used here to enhance Bach’s music, but is never allowed to trample on it. The chorale prelude “Herzlich tut mich verlangen” is presented in a simple registration of soft diapasons, with a beautiful decrescendo rounding off the final bars. The famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor (a spurious work, almost certainly not by Bach) is given the theatrical treatment it fully deserves, with a few poetic licenses, while the Passacaglia and Fugue grows from its hushed ground bass through a panoply of extraordinary sounds to a roaring double-fugue conclusion.