It was however clear that she had mellowed in recent years; a development, at least judging by her Bach teaching, that could perhaps be pinpointed to her final integral recorded during the 1990s, HIP-influenced as it was, with curious extremes of tempi and an emotionally detached manner (magnificent highlights such as BWV 543 notwithstanding). I recall an interview with David Sanger in which he called her a ‘charming though quite dogmatic teacher’ – back then, entirely conceivable – and that side of her came to the fore in these recordings. Sanger himself was for decades a rite of pedagogical passage for British organists and his great wisdom and exactitude, not always forthcoming in equal measure, will be remembered in much the same way. Private lessons could be like root canal surgery and his Oundle classes nothing short of ritual humiliation, however well-meaning, as he indicated himself (‘some of the young people who come to Oundle really have very little idea. But hopefully they go away better able to play things properly [my emphasis]). By the time I encountered Marie-Claire, in 2004 or thereabouts, she seemed, without explicitly letting on, to have the measure of what was going on in the training of young British organists, geared as it was to note-perfect, mechanized trio sonatas calculated only to appeal to Stephen Cleobury come the fiercely contested King’s trials. To the Royal College of Organists, too, freedom in Bach meant one thing: freedom from error; with musicality counting for no more than it would in the notorious transposition exercises (a tone or semitone up or down, at sight). The Marie-Claire I played for seemed closer to the freer organist of the second integral, obsessed less with control than independence of mind. Fussily-maintained consistency of articulation in the trio sonatas bored her, and besides that nothing further about the creative pinnacle of Bach’s organ oeuvre needed to be said. She never contradicted other teachers.
Alain’s legacy as an organist and tireless advocate for her brother (and French Romantic school more generally) is no less formidable, though of the three-and-a-half Bach integrals, of which only the second and third are widely available, I find myself alternating regularly however much more I’m drawn to the second. The one constant I look for is the same personality she encouraged in others, as shown in this vivid first movement to the G major trio sonata: