Organist Olivier Latry had no way of knowing that his latest album, Bach to the Future, would possibly be the final recording ever made on the famous Cavaillé-Coll organ at Notre-Dame de Paris. The landmark cathedral was devastated by fire on April 15, 2019, and while the status of its stained glass windows, artwork and organ has not been assessed, a spokesperson told Le Monde the loss would be extensive.
Update: On April 16, Latry posted the following on Facebook: "Despite all the damage in the Cathedral, the organ miraculously escaped the flames, as well as the water supposed to extinguish them. It is very dusty, but will continue to enjoy us as soon as the building will be restored. When? No one knows yet. 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.' (John, 2). It will surely take more time in Notre-Dame, but I still live with great confidence and hope."
Latry, who has been the titular organist of Notre-Dame de Paris for 33 years, recorded the album over three days in January — late at night, when the church was empty of worshippers and tourists — and released it on March 22 via La Dolce Vita Records.
Olivier Latry plays music by Bach on the grand orgue at Notre-Dame de Paris. (YouTube screenshot)
Baroque music is not a natural fit for Notre-Dame's Cavaillé-Coll organ, which was built in the grand French symphonic tradition, but Latry told France Musique that he had been thinking of this project for years. "I wanted to imagine how Bach's music could pass the centuries, beyond all the musicological constraints I had applied to other albums," he reflected, "[and] do something really poles apart and try to put the instrument and the music back into phase."
He also pointed out that the space itself, with its seven seconds of reverb, limited his choice of repertoire. Trio sonatas for organ would not work, for example; instead he opted for Bach's more massive organ works.
Bach to the Future is streaming on Spotify. The promotional video, produced by Forte and directed by Dorian & Hugo, uses vertiginous images from the cathedral's interior, as well as close-ups and lighting effects to accentuate Latry's performance of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565.