Olivier Latry: Bach To The Future
Ah, this is more like it! Bach played with no hang-ups, using the full resources of a magnificent organ (the Cavaillé-Coll in Paris’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, which has happily survived the recent fire largely intact), happily discarding any ideas of authenticity and completely shorn of that kind of hallowed reserve with which so many organists treat it. This is a joyous celebration of Bach’s music, not a kneeling, hands-together, head-bowed worship of it.
Olivier Latry has mischievously titled his disc after a popular sci-fi movie which first appeared, coincidentally, on the 300th anniversary of Bach’s birth. The booklet photograph of the console looks very space-age, with its rows of stops and keys strangely distorted by the camera lens to resemble the pilot’s-eye view of a space ship coming in to land in some cavernous alien space. The whole idea of the disc, as propounded in the astonishingly thick, 67-page multilingual booklet, is that here is Bach played by a 21st-century organist for 21st-century ears.
The playing is fabulous, no question about that, while the interpretations are idiosyncratic, to put it mildly. What Latry has added to Liszt’s version of the BWV542 Fantasia does not bear close scrutiny – but, boy, does it make for exciting listening! I wonder how far his tongue was in his cheek when he decided to transform the uninspiring Erbarm dich mein into an aural image of an alien monster, growling the chorale melody as it plods slowly along, or when he added bells to the repeated pedal figure of In dir ist Freude. Weird and wonderful effects (consciously borrowed from Stokowski) adorn the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, although the Pièce d’orgue (BWV572) gets a pretty straitlaced performance, big reed-encrusted crescendo during the Grave section notwithstanding. Even the most sanctimonious Bach purist could not fail to be impressed with Latry’s impeccable tracing of the contrapuntal lines in the BWV578 and BWV542 fugues, or with his gloriously fluent and magisterial account of the Passacaglia and Fugue.
Lots of people of a purist inclination will be horrified by this. But those of us who believe Bach’s music can not only survive but actually be positively reinvigorated by being taken out of its dusty glass case and injected with futuristic gadgets will feel we have been transported into a wonderful new galaxy.