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Summer in Souvigny begins elegantly with a botanical fair and ends in eloquence with the Autumn Musical Journeys festival. Taken live from performances in 2012, this latest offering from the annual event features Olivier Latry on an historic instrument by Louis XVI’s organ builder François-Henri Cliquot dating from 1783, with music drawn from the preceding century.

Not by any means the most beautiful instrument to look at (the casing almost austerely imperial, the console claustrophobically intimate), the III/30 machine is nonetheless a joy to listen to. And to be wondered at too, its ancien régime associations surviving Napoleonic purges and ham-fisted alterations by Goydadin in 1840. (Its wedge-bellows were reconstructed by Philippe Hartmann in 1977 and improved by Philippe Klinge with an electronic control device in 1994, aspects of which are dealt with in two of the short bonus films).

Tracing the evolution of the French classical organ through the late 17th and entirety of the 18th centuries, the music is exquisitely chosen and finds Latry on consistently impeccable form, negotiating Guilain’s multi-faceted, mood-shifting seven-part Suite du premier Ton with light-fingered dexterity. Grigny’s beatifically solemn and still Tierce en taille is despatched with touching gravity, and the excerpts from Balbastre’s whimsical Livre d’orgue de Dijon exalt in the organ’s Grands jeux, gloriously combining trumpets, crumhorn and cornet. The ‘Trio’ substitutes the usual three hands on manuals with the bass part played on pedals – no mean feat in Souvigny’s cramped console.

The ‘Dialogue sur les Grands-Jeux’ from François Couperin’s Messe pour les Paroisses prompts virtuoso playing that ricochets joyfully between the cornet of the Récit, the Positif ’s crumhorn, Pedal Flutes and the Great’s Grand jeu. Latry’s own Improvisation provides a lustrous contemporary afterthought on the Cliquot’s rich and resonant sonorities.

Camerawork largely concentrates on Latry’s playing and aspects of the organ, with an interview with the soloist and three short films (all in French) offering wider context. The absence of English subtitles (on my copy at least) may prove problematic for some viewers.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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