Notre Dame Cathedral organist Olivier Latry will surely remember his recent visit to Los Angeles. It was here that the famed French musician ended a brilliant, rapturously received recital Sunday in Walt Disney Concert Hall with an improvisation.
On the face of it, there was nothing unusual about that. But when, as is his wont, he broke open a sealed envelope to be surprised by what themes he would have to improvise on, he bent his head toward the keyboard in mock despair.
Mon dieu! He tootled "Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off to Work We Go" from Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
"Wait. There's more," he said.
Then he played the Jiminy Cricket song from "Pinocchio," "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Ah, les Americains. A good sport, Latry nevertheless went on to turn these two themes into a 15-minute showpiece, full of flashy finger- and footwork and replete with French chromaticism. It culminated with enough razzle-dazzle to bring the audience -- consisting of many admiring organists as well as organ aficionados -- to its feet.
But what a squandered possibility. Up to that point, Latry had played, from memory and with consummate artistry, a long, difficult program of French music spanning nearly four centuries. A superb colorist, he not only gave each piece a distinctive sound but, within each, subtly or dramatically varied the stops and combinations of stops every few measures to keep the music vividly alive.