Organ: Jean Guillou
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
After the medieval marvel built by King Louis IX that is the Sainte Chapelle, my mum and I found ourselves in the much more populist church that is Saint-Eustache, which used to be the place of worship for the market workers toiling in Les Halles. Inside the monumental Gothic edifice modeled on Notre-Dame, a decidedly Renaissance style prevails. But its most amazing sight is without a doubt the magnificent organ – supposedly the largest one in France with 8,000 pipes – that is still regularly played for all to enjoy freely.
That’s why we made a point to be there for one of the popular Sunday afternoon concerts, this one presenting no less than Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition arranged by Jean Guillou, the church’s long-time titular organist.
The grandeur of the site and the solemnity of the sound flawlessly concurred to make the 10-movement suite a whole new experience. Far from the assertive subtlety of the original piano version or the textured inventiveness of Ravel’s take on it, the music was now coming alive loud and clear through the impressive pipe system… at least until one of the keys got stuck.
After some pessimistic assessment by Jean Guillou as to his ability to have it repaired promptly, the instrument did get swift and efficient attention, and we were able to hear the remaining of the work, making us appreciate the incredible feat that is organ playing – with its delayed sounds and all – even more.