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Bach at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Notre-Dame Cathedral at dusk, with river and street lamps
Benh LIEU SONG
/
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

On The Bach Hour, organist Olivier Latry harnesses the astonishing sonic resources of a remarkable instrument for the composer's music, and John Eliot Gardiner leads the Cantata No. 185.

On the program:

Chorale Prelude on Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV 727 - Olivier Latry, organ (Cavalliere-Coll organ at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris)

Cantata BWV 185 Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe (translation) - Magdalena Kožená, soprano; Nathalie Stutzman, contralto; Paul Agnew, tenor; Nicolas Testé, bass; Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor

Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 - Olivier Latry, organ (Cavalliere-Coll organ at Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris)

Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042 - Isabelle Faust, violin; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin

Olivier Latry's recording Bach to the Future was made in 2019, before the fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Here is a video made for that production:

TRANSCRIPT:

[MUSIC]

The pipe organ may have been J.S. Bach’s favorite instrument. But we can be pretty sure that this is quite a bit beyond what he thought of as the sound of that instrument.

[MUSIC]

With five manuals and over 8 thousand pipes, this is the organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Yes, the same Notre Dame that went up in flames when construction equipment sparked a fire earlier this year. [in April of 2019] Just a few months before that catastrophe, the cathedral’s chief organist, Olivier Latry, recorded Bach’s music on this instrument, one with an exponentially bigger sound than even the largest of the north German organs of the composer’s time. And more of that sound is coming up on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC]

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from WCRB, Classical Radio Boston. The good news about the fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral is that the organ was only minimally damaged by water. It wasn’t destroyed, as all who saw the flames in real time must have assumed. The bad news - beyond the overall story of the fire itself - is that it will take years to bring the organ back to life. In the meantime, the serendipity of Bach’s music, performed by Olivier Latry and captured in the last recording made before the fire, will be a reminder of what was lost and what will return.

Also on the program is Bach’s Cantata No. 185 Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, or, “Merciful Heart of Eternal Love.” And if you’d like to see a translation of the text for that piece from Boston’s Emmanuel Music, just visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.

The organ at Notre Dame may be known for pure, unadulterated musical power, but it also possesses within it the sound of quiet meditation, as in this prelude on the chorale Herzlich tut mich verlangen, or “I do desire dearly.” Olivier Latry is the organist.

[MUSIC – BWV 727]

Bach’s prelude on the chorale “I do desire dearly,” performed by organist Olivier Latry at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. And you’ll hear more from Latry and that instrument later in the hour.

Take a moment to think of a saying you were probably taught from a very early age: treat others as you would want to be treated yourself, otherwise known as the Golden Rule. It’s just a slight twist on that sentiment that’s behind Bach’s Cantata 185, Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, or, “Merciful Heart of Eternal Love.” It was inspired by a passage from the Gospel of Luke that reads, in part, “Judge not, and you won’t be judged; condemn not, and you won’t be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

The piece opens with a prayer to the divine, the soprano and tenor soloists singing, “touch my heart through your being, so that I might practice compassion and goodness,” all while a solo trumpet plays a chorale Bach’s audience would have recognized as “I call to you Lord Jesus Christ.”

[MUSIC]

It’s a recognition that compassion doesn’t always come easily. But the alto soloist encourages the believer to “generously scatter goodness.”

[MUSIC]

The bass confirms the opening message of the cantata, that forgiveness is, quote, “the Christian’s art.” And the piece ends with the chorale that was only hinted at earlier, “I call to you Lord Jesus Christ.”

Remember, you can find Pamela Dellal’s translation for this piece for Boston’s Emmanuel Music when you start at our website, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is the Cantata No. 185, Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, or, “Merciful Heart of Eternal Love,” featuring soprano Magdalena Kozena, contralto Nathalie Stutzman, tenor Paul Agnew, and bass Nicolas Testé. John Eliot Gardiner leads the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 185]

Bach’s Cantata No. 185, Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, or, “Merciful Heart of Eternal Love,” in a performance featuring soprano Magdalena Kozena, contralto Nathalie Stutzman, tenor Paul Agnew, bass Nicolas Testé, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, all led by John Eliot Gardiner.

You probably remember the day well. Maybe a friend told you, or some kind of tweet or Facebook post caught you. Or maybe you happened to turn on the TV and ran across a blazing inferno, right in the heart of Paris. On April 15, 2019, the ancient wooden roof of Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire, and the resulting blaze brought the term “tinderbox” instantly to mind. It was devastating, to say the least. Most people probably lost all hope for what was inside the building. It seemed inconceivable that very much of anything could have survived such a ferocious inferno. But when the fire was finally extinguished, one bit of good news emerged. The organ was saved. Water had damaged some parts of it. But apparently it wasn’t too serious. And given that the entire cathedral is now in need of extensive work, the organ will be removed, repaired, and reintegrated in that amazing space.

It’s an instrument that was built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll and dedicated in 1868, replacing an instrument from the early 1700’s, which itself replaced the original Notre Dame organ from 1403. But even though the Cavaillé-Coll turned out to be that builder’s masterpiece, it had been repeatedly updated, renovated, and modernized. Through it all, its sound has remained so distinctive that many people literally know it when they hear it. And here, understandably, is one of those people. Olivier Latry, the chief organist at Notre Dame, plays the Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 542]

In making this recording of Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, organist Olivier Latry had to schedule his recording sessions beginning at around midnight every night for several days. The organ you heard is situated in one of the most densely populated parts of Paris and inside one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, Notre Dame Cathedral. And the only way to assure something like the silence you’d want for a recording was to make it in the middle of the night.

And by the way, if you’d like to see an amazing video that was produced for this release, visit The Bach Hour at our website, Classical WCRB dot org. Given the current state of Notre Dame Cathedral after the devastating fire 2019, it’s also a nice reminder of what a magnificent building Notre Dame is and, hopefully, what it will be again.

During his lifetime, as Bach wrote organ works like the one you just heard, he had the luxury of knowing exactly how they would be played because he was the performer. When it comes to his orchestral music, though, what he could expect depended on the musicians he had in any given situation. For instance, there is a whole sub-category of cantatas with amazing flute parts because, when Bach wrote them, there happened to be an excellent flutist spending a bit of time in Leipzig.

Something like that applies to the next piece. Written when Bach served the royal court in Cöthen, it was written for an excellent violinist there named Joseph Spieß. And this is an excellent violinist of our day, Isabelle Faust, who’s joined by the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin in Bach’s Violin Concerto in E, here on The Bach Hour.

[MUSIC – BWV 1042]

J.S. Bach’s Violin Concerto in E major, featuring soloist Isabelle Faust, with the Academy of Ancient Music Berlin.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.