If you walked by St. Dunstan’s Basilica church in Charlottetown last Friday night — and if you could pay attention to anything aside from the freezing cold — you may have heard the echoes of brilliantly powerful notes ascending from its steeples to the heavens.
And if you had followed this beckoning sound, up those big stone steps to pull open the tall black doors of the cathedral, a blanket of warmth in audio form would have been thrown over you as you joined in with the thousand folks in the standing-room-only venue who were enjoying the unveiling of the church’s brand new organ.
A 1926 Casavant Opus 979 organ has made the journey from Église Saint-Clément in Montreal to Charlottetown over the past year. And after an extensive refurbishing process in 2012, as it was even equipped with a new state-of-the-art computerized console, it now comfortably resides in its new home within St. Dunstan’s Basilica.
To commemorate this special occasion, diocese music director Leo Marchildon assembled an Organ Concert of Dedication of grandiose nature. And in a free-to-the-public two-hour presentation last Friday evening, he not only displayed a plethora of musical prowess but demonstrated the full degree of soulful force this new instrument wields.
Accompanied intermittently throughout by the Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra, with additional performances by vocalist Kara Callaghan and violinist Nicole Geoffrion, Marchildon led us through the experience of nine different pieces from the ages — even including the world premiere of his own original organ piece, written specifically for the occasion, called St. Dunstan’s Dream.
“Welcome all,” said the evening’s emcee David Abbott, as he finished his introduction to the concert, “and I invite you to relax, and let your body and soul bask in the beauty of music tonight.”
I had to include that particular quote because, seemingly, this is exactly what took place as the concert began and the notes from the grand pipes began to wash over the people who were filling every seat and available standing location of the cathedral.
Indeed, the feeling of being amid over a thousand souls, focused placidly on the music of one instrument throughout the course of an evening, is a profoundly unique feeling that life rarely delivers.
And the fact that so many came out to experience the Organ Concert of Dedication on one of the most bitterly cold nights of the year, I must add, shows the communally-acknowledged importance of this occasion.
It was the sheer brilliance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor that began the night: flamboyant, intricate, ominous and striking in its virtually uninterrupted flow of intertwining treble and bass melody.
And from there, through pieces such as Handel’s Organ Concerto in F Major, Mozart’s Fantasy in F minor, Intermezzo from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni and Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor by Giazotto, we were continually awed by the glorious reverberation of a tone too divine for words, brought to us by the ever-flowing fingers of Marchildon.
The numinous sound was perhaps only to be outshone by the awesome wonder, the spine-chilling resonance of over a thousand cathedral voices singing How Great Thou Art, in accompaniment-less third-verse a cappella, as Marchildon then exquisitely reunited the organ with the piece for the final chorus.
And after a lovely ceremonial commemoration, including dedications to the late Owen and Mary Kelly, the concert concluded with Marchildon’s own masterpiece opus on the Opus — magical, majestic and elegant and complimented by the St. Dunstan’s Basilica Choir — and finished with Widor’s Toccata from Symphonie No. 5, on a perfect note of magnificence.
Next week: It’s time for Music P.E.I. Week 2013. And I’m off to one of the brand new events — Nudie’s House of Rock at The Mack tonight.
Todd MacLean is a local freelance writer and musician. If you have a comment or suggestion for a review, you can get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626-1242. But he won’t be offended if you don’t.
See Page 2 for Todd's Picks