French organist Pierre Cochereau was one of the greatest of all improvisers on the "King of Instruments," particularly on large organs like the one at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Though Cochereau did produce a few flexible scores of his music, like the late Spalding Gray, whose monologues read amusingly on the printed page but were drop-dead hilarious when he delivered them in person, Cochereau was at the pinnacle of his achievement when extemporizing. As a result, the recordings Cochereau made, which stretch from 1955 to when he died, suddenly, of a stroke in 1984, are regarded as primary texts for his most representative organ music. German label Motette's Pierre Cochereau: Rekonstruierte Improvisationen features organist and Cochereau editor François Lombard in two of his own Cochereau transcriptions; the Variations sur "Frere Jacques" and the Suite à la Française sur des themes populaires, both originally recorded by Cochereau for Philips in 1973. Lombard fills out the program utilizing a third reconstruction by David Briggs of Improvisations sur "Alouette, gentile alouette" that Briggs published and first recorded back in the late '80s.
The business of creating playable scores from Cochereau's recorded improvisations is akin to the effort of rescuing Charles Ives' music from his manuscripts. Many organists are engaged in making such transcriptions and results tend to vary; admittedly, picking the specifics of a registration out of a recording of pipe organ, even a good one, is rather like trying to score out the sound of a traffic jam. On these recordings, Lombard plays the Great Organ of the Church Saint-Eloi in Dunkirk. Lombard is an excellent player and his transcriptions are worthy; it is clear he has a good ear for Cochereau's sound and preferences in registration. It's just a pity that Motette's recording isn't very good -- it is QUITE distant, and during loud passages the organ texture gets very dense and cloudy; by comparison Jeremy Filsell's ASV recording, Pierre Cochereau: L'Improvisateur Extraordinaire, is as clear as glass. If one is going to record transcriptions of musical works made from recordings, one at least wants to aim to make the new one better than the original source recording sounded, and the recordings Cochereau himself made in 1973 for Philips were not that bad. In quiet passages, the organ sounds like it is being played in the next arrondissement.
Lombard's effort is the result of earnest, patient, plain old hard work, and his recording engineer has let him down here. As a shot fired in the battle of regaining Cochereau's music for the hands of the living, Motette's Rekonstruierte Improvisationen will provide interest for those who are following such developments closely, but it is not an entry that stands to win the war.