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.
What he could have done with significant material to riff on!
The big virtuoso pieces Latry offered included the final movement of Vierne's Organ Symphony No. 2, Franck's Choral No. 2 and Messiaen's "Joie et clarte des corps glorieux" (Joy and Splendor of the Glorious Bodies). But he varied the weight of the program by adding Daquin's joyful "Noel," Opus 2, No. 10; Gigout's skipping Scherzo; and Durufle's gossamer Scherzo.
He performed his first selections -- Marchand's "Pieces pour le Te Deum," Calviere's "Piece d'orgue" and the Daquin Noel -- on the console nestled in the loft among the pipes at the back of the hall. The rest of the 11-part program he played on a console on the orchestra floor. According to a Disney Hall spokesperson, there's no difference in capability between the two.
Latry gave two encores: the end of the Toccata from "Suite Gothique" by Leon Boellmann and the third of Thierry Escaich's "Trois poemes."