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Pierre COCHEREAU (1924-1984)
Pierre Cochereau - La Legende

Improvisations: Symphonie en Improvisation [24:35]; Treize Improvisations sur des Versets de Vêspres [25:44]; Boléro Improvisé pour orgue et percussions sur un theme de Charles Racquet [13:29]
Pierre Cochereau (organ);
Michel Cals, Michel Gastaud (percussion)
rec. Notre Dame de Paris, December 1963 and May 1973. DDD
SOLSTICE SOCD 237 [63:56]

This review gives me the opportunity to express my gratitude to François Carbou for his continuing work to bring to a wider public the art of Pierre Cochereau.

Cochereau was one of the greatest enigmas of 20th century organ culture for so many reasons. The most important of these relates to his legacy of recorded improvisations, for the most part preserved by the microphones of Carbou. Here, however Carbou’s record label Solstice, originally created to record Cochereau on home soil at Notre Dame, presents earlier recordings made when Cochereau was still contracted to Philips. The Symphonie contains all the hallmarks of the genius; not for nothing did his teacher Dupré describe him as a "phenomenon without equal in the history of the contemporary organ". Add to this the colossal structures, the quicksilver scherzo, the Mahlerian ‘Lent’, the ever-changing tonal centre, the spellbinding sense of rhythm, and above all, Cochereau’s intoxicating and utterly unique harmonic language. The Verset improvisations show his qualities as a liturgical improviser, not recorded in the Mass of course. It remains an invaluable complement to the wonderful "Cochereau – L’Organiste Liturgique" release from Solstice (SOCD 226) featuring live recordings from masses in Notre Dame in the 1970s.

The Boléro was later reconstructed by Cochereau’s son, the conductor Jean-Marc, unless I’m mistaken the first reconstruction of a Cochereau improvisation, now a genre in itself. It was later recorded by David Briggs for Priory (PRCD 568) at a noticeably quicker tempo than Cochereau’s original.

The timing of the recordings is interesting; the Symphonie and Versets were recorded in 1963 by which time the Notre Dame organ had been electrified but had not yet received its chamades. By the time of the 1973 recording of the Boléro, these had been added, and feature at the climax of this arch-form construction. Cochereau’s radical changes to the enormous Cavaillé-Coll - which had received only comparatively insignificant alterations until then - have been rightly criticised. Indeed they represented nothing short of vandalism given the quality of the original instrument. Perhaps this side of Cochereau is the reason that many people are unwilling to accept the other side of his legacy, of which this recording forms a part.

Like all of the CDs in this ongoing series, the present release is essential listening.

Chris Bragg


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