In his short but powerful organ recital on Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Olivier Latry, the organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, performed solo works by Anton Heiller and Jehan Alain. But the big event was Latry’s pipe organ version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for four hands and four feet, where he was joined by Korean organist Shin-Young Lee.
Latry opened with Heiller’s brief Tanz-Toccata, composed in 1970, and quickly demonstrated a breathtaking mastery of the Disney Hall instrument by shaping the score’s restlessly shifting meters and thick harmonies into a compelling dramatic whole. In Alain’s “Three Dances” -– “Joys,” “Mournings” and “Battles” -- Latry contrasted gentle and more emotionally conflicted passages to create a sense of epic adventure in just over 20 minutes.
Alain’s dances were accessibly, if strangely, tonal, employing medieval plainchant style to shattering effect. Weeks before the Nazi invasion of France, Alain mailed his “Three Dances” to a friend. He died in a firefight in 1940 at the age of 29.
After intermission, Latry and Lee gave a high-voltage rendition of “Rite of Spring,” which was adapted by him from the composer's own original piano-duo version. Latry added extra elements unavailable to pianists. For example, Lee’s virtuoso pedal trills in the lower registers were used to brilliant effect.
Both artists played with remarkable precision and clarity, conveying the work’s complex rhythms and textures without approximating. Navigating the narrow, vertical organ keyboards also proved a marvel of arm and hand crowd control.
Sometimes unavoidably touching shoulders, Latry and Lee employed a standing page-turner, who, at several points, was required to stretch across Latry to press one of the organ’s sequencer pistons. Some of the dazzling changes of registrations and colors would have been impossible to achieve without him.
With intermission and a short encore –- a reprise of the “Rite”’s ending -- the concert lasted under 90 minutes. Yet no one could feel shortchanged.
The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."