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L’art de la Variation
Variations sur “Adeste fideles” (24 December 1970) [9:44]
Variations sur deux noëls (24 December 1980) [15:33]
Partita sur “O Filii et Filiæ” (15 April 1979) [20:15]
Prélude et Choral varié sur un noel (24 December 1974) [19:54]
Prélude, Adagio et Choral varié sur “La Marseillaise” (10 November 1968) [12:59]
Pierre Cochereau (organ)
rec. Notre-Dame, Paris.
SOLSTICE SOCD302 [78:48]

This source has numerous releases dedicated to the organ playing of Pierre Cochereau, many of which celebrate and preserve his remarkable skill as an improviser, to the extent of performing entire organ symphonies (see review) ‘on the hoof’, as it were. This release is a well selected programme of variations on pre-existing themes, and it also marks a 30 year anniversary since Cochereau died on 5 March 1984 at the age of only 59.
These are all live recordings, and as you might expect from their vintage they are not quite as smooth as perfected performances made under studio conditions and with digital technology. There is a modicum of tape hiss, some peaky moments with the grandest of tuttis and a few tape bumps here and there, though in general the sound is very acceptable. The balance favours the upper registers over the lower, so fans of trouser-flapping low organ notes may be a little disappointed, though the spectrum does capture everything. Extraneous noise is fairly negligible, though there is a strange vocal explosion at 7:30 into track two and premature but understandable applause breaks into the track three Partita about halfway through.
There are inevitably some passages which arguably push the boundaries of reasonable good taste, but with these recordings it is the journey and those unique moments which occur along the way which make them valuable. There are very few moments where you suspect that Cochereau is playing his way out of a problem, and while there are a few split notes and a couple of ragged moments you always feel the hands and feet of a real master at work. Take the mysterious opening and conclusion of the Prélude et Choral varié sur un noel as just a representative example. Three out of five of these tracks come from performances at Christmas but Cochereau doesn’t deliver a merely festive message. There is plenty on which to reflect as well as music to rouse the spirit, and a strong element in Cochereau’s art is that he never presents anything representing a ‘conventional’ set of variations. Each performance has a carefully considered architecture, and Cochereau’s creativity often takes us so far away from the original themes that they are more of a memory than a basis for improvisation.
This will be an automatic choice for collectors of Pierre Cochereau’s playing from this source, and should be a consideration for those looking for something a little out of the ordinary when it comes to organ recordings. Warts and all, these are far more than mere souvenirs of an organist serving his contractual obligation.
Dominy Clements