Organists Michel Bouvard and François Espinasse both studied with André Isoir, one of the giants of the French golden generation, along with Marie-Claire Alain, Michel Chapuis and Jean Guillou.
They wanted to pay a tribute to their master, who died in 2016, by playing a selection of pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach transcribed by Isoir. During a short introduction, Michel Bouvard dedicated the concert also to Michel Chapuis, who died in 2017 and Jean Guillou who died the previous weekend, and was still active at 88. The concert took place in the Radio France Auditorium, one of Paris concert halls which hosts an organ.
One of the advantages of contemporary organs is that the organ console is detached and the musician can play on stage in full view of the audience. The 2 organists alternated, Espinasse playing the Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 29, Bouvard performing the beautiful Aria from the 3rd Orchestral Suite BWV 1068, Espinasse interpreting the Arias “Stirb in mir” from Cantata BWV 169 and “Jesus Christus, Gottes Sohn” from Cantata BWV 4, before Michel Bouvard played the Preludio (Adagio) from the 1st violin Sonata BWV 1001 and the magnificent Fugue in D minor BWV 539, the only piece of the evening which was not a transcription.
Espinasse performed 2 more Arias, “Mein glaübiches Herze” from Cantata BWV 68 and the deeply moving “Schafe können sicher weiden” from Cantata BWV 208, then Bouvard played the wonderful Sonatina from Cantata BWV 106 (the famous Actus Tragicus) – which was also transcribed by György Kurtág, one of the evening highlights – and the Finale: Allegro of the Concerto for 2 keyboards BWV 1060.
Next was the “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” from Mass BWV 233 by François Espinasse, another peak in the evening, before both performers joined forces for the famous Choral “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” BWV 645 with a continuo added by André Isoir (played by Espinasse).
The last 2 pieces were the lovely Aria “Wenn die Frühlingslüfte streichen” from Cantata BWV 202, played by Espinasse, and the Concerto for 4 keyboards BWV 1065. a tour de force as Isoir managed to transcribe the 4 keyboards and orchestral parts for the 2 hands and 2 feet of the organist (here the remarkable Michel Bouvard).
François Espinasse introduced the encore, a transcription by Michel Bouvard of the Crucifixus of the Mass in B minor, dedicating it to André Isoir, Michel Chapuis and Jean Guillou.