ur magnificent pipe organ, the first modern example of a fully reformed organ in Ontario, comprises 25 stops and 35 ranks over the Hauptwerk (Great), Positiv and Pedal and features a detached drawknob console with compass 56/32 mechanical key and stop action. Each division is separately encased, with open toe, unnicked, low pressure polished tin pipes in classical form.
Opus 2805 was built in 1965 by Casavant Frères, of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, under the tonal direction of famed organ designer/builder — and late husband of world-renowned organist Dame Gillian Weir — Lawrence I. Phelps (1923-1999). It was the fourteenth mechanical action instrument from the second generation of Casavant tracker organs and the first in Ontario built with a rückpositiv, defined as a small organ at the organist's back, to the front of the gallery (in fact, hung from the gallery rail) intended to provide colouristic and contrasting functions. Then-pastor Msgr. Allen and his curate, Rev. John Mitt, are responsible for the installation of the organ in the rear gallery of the church.
The solid mahogany case was designed by Hellmuth Wolff who supervised the workshop construction of the instrument. Expert guidance was provided by Victor Togni and Karl Wilhelm.
The cost of the organ was $37,500.
The organ placement was a problem since six winged angels pictured flying toward the rose window in the rear gallery were going to be left with their feet and trains sticking out from behind the organ cases. After reviewing J.C. Gauthier's drawing, it was decided to leave the rose window visible by splitting the main casework, Great on the left, and Pedal on the right. The angels now reside behind a layer of gold tile.
Recently completed refurbishments saw most of Opus 2805 shipped to Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec while the casework remained in place, covered by layers of protective material. Necessary in the long-term maintenance of such a fine instrument, this act of stewardship and will ensure its continued brilliance for generations to come. Here are some thoughts from Casavant Frères on this process:
Opus 2805 Has Left the Building: Casavant's Take on Rebuilds and Restorations
Few organ builders have as many pipe organs still being played decades following their installation as Casavant Frères. Just as with other objects made with natural materials that age with time, pipe organs too need work to keep them in their original working condition. Returning to the original builder when such work is needed is the best way to keep the integrity of a pipe organ and to ensure its reliability into the future.
Over the years, we have developed a unique expertise restoring or rebuilding our own pipe organs, and also notable instruments by other organ builders. Casavant’s skilled personnel and large workshops enable us to undertake all type and size of projects involving existing pipe organs.
Assessing a pipe organ that was built decades ago is often a humbling experience. One can appreciate the skills and ability of the artisans who crafted the instrument with pride, as well as study the inner working of cleverly designed action mechanisms and learn about time-proven pipe scaling.
Work on existing organs covers a wide range of interventions, from strict restoration to rebuilding with tonal restructuring.
When approaching a new project, the first step is always for us to make a comprehensive evaluation of the organ on site. This enables us to assess the instrument in regard to its state of preservation and working condition, both on the mechanical and tonal standpoints.
This assessment, along with discussions with the resident musicians, enable us to define the best approach to revive the instrument, by gaining a clear understanding of the needs to be addressed. While the choices made must be respectful of the instrument’s inherent qualities, both tonal and technical, we believe that we also have to propose pragmatic solutions to make sure the instrument will continue to serve present and future purposes. In the case of a Casavant organ, the archival material (drawings, plans, correspondence, etc.) we keep for virtually all instruments built in our shop proves to be an invaluable source of information to assist us in making the best choices.
From a mechanical standpoint, one can easily determine to restore the original windchests, wind system, and expression motors, as well as to clean the organ thoroughly. Console work brings more questions. While it is defensible to restore an original console for historical reasons, we respect the fact that most organists prefer to have it rebuilt with solid-state systems, because of the flexibility and the reliability it offers.
The tonal aspect of a refurbishment project is certainly the most debatable one. Depending on the choices made, it opens the door to either a successful revival or a disastrous aftermath.
Most pipe organs have served their purpose effectively for decades, even if they do not allow the playing of certain works of the organ literature with complete authenticity. After all, the primary purposes of most organs installed in religious institutions are to lead congregational singing and to support choirs.
When tonal additions or changes are desirable, we will make sure that they are made respecting the general aesthetics of the organ, assuming that the instrument has tonal integrity to start with, and that the new resources provided will truly enhance the instrument’s capabilities to serve various musical needs.
Opus 2805 comprises the following stops, with 672 pipes on the Great, 672 on the Positiv and 320 on the Pedal for a total of 1664 pipes.
|7.||Mixtur V||1 ⅓||280|
|15.||Sesquialtera II||2 ⅔||56|
Great to Pedal
Positiv to Pedal
Positiv to Great
In addition to serving the parish the organ continues to be much used in recordings, including pre-nineteenth century music by Peter Hurford for the Argo and Decca labels.
Peter Hurford at Our Lady of Sorrows - A Reflection by Dan Kelly
n 1975, Peter Hurford, the renowned English organist, composer, and scholar, made the first of a series of recordings of the organ at Our Lady of Sorrows, initially for the Argo label, later for Decca. Since its installation in 1965, the instrument had attracted considerable international attention, including Peter’s; and after trying out the organ on a previous visit to Toronto, he was in no doubt he had found the very baroque-styled instrument he needed for a genre of baroque composition based on repeated bass lines. The result was the album “Hurford Plays Casavant,” a collection of pieces by Byrd, Frescobaldi, Raison, Cabanilles, Pachelbel, and Buxtehude, all culminating in an astonishing performance of Bach’s titanic Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.
After my teaching duties were over at a nearby school, I would surreptitiously let myself into the church and tiptoe to the Cliveden side sacristy now converted into a sound studio, with hundreds of feet of cable like jungle creepers on the floor and recording equipment, boxes, and speakers stuffed and piled in just about every available space. The microphones were mounted high in the church, about a third of the way up the nave, two facing the organ, and two facing the altar in order to pick up the ambience of the space itself. The producer, Chris, organ score and pencil in hand, monitored absolutely everything he heard, down to the last dotted sixteenth note, communicating with the gallery via an intercom. No detail escaped his notice, including what to me was scarcely audible traffic noise from Bloor Street, some of which necessitated stopping and re-recording a passage. Periodically, Peter would descend from upstairs and bound into the sacristy, handkerchief in hand to wipe the sweat from his face. I was amazed by his energy, and even more so by his musical discipline and performance stamina. He would listen to the latest take, curtly nodding approval at some points and showing restlessness at others. Both performer and producer appeared to be of one mind, astute and exacting musicians. Their business concluded, Peter gave me the impression of nearly sprinting back to the gallery, eager to resume his task. And this for hours every day.
Present throughout the proceedings were technicians from Casavant Frères, the builders of the organ, ready to respond to any mechanical issues that may arise - tuning and voicing problems or disconnected trackers and couplers. What astonished the recording crew was the ability of the organ to withstand the daily assault of this project. Apart from the infrequent need to adjust some tuning, nothing happened! Evidently this had not been their experience elsewhere. But what held them in awe was the sound of the instrument. Never before or since have I seen so many looks of wonder or heard so many expressions of profound appreciation at the beauty of this organ’s tonal palette. Peter’s choice of music using repeated bass lines over which a series of variations is built presented the opportunity to explore the myriad stop combinations this organ affords, with their stunning tonal colours. Twice while on vacation in Australia, I happened to tune into an ABC radio broadcast where I heard a familiar and distinctive sound. I knew what it was well before the program’s host announced, in his Australian drawl, “That was Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor played by Peter Hurford at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Toronto, Canada.”
I remember Peter, not only as a dynamo, and an uncompromising musician and virtuoso, but also as an unaffected and approachable individual. He was ever the gentleman, even when, in a misplaced gesture of helpfulness I waxed the organ bench! This did not sit well, but his exasperation and incredulity that someone, let alone an organist, would do such a bone-headed thing, did not prevent him from inviting me to join the others for the occasional post-session drink at the motel where he was staying. Peter returned several times in subsequent years, his work at Our Lady of Sorrows forming part of his great project of recording the complete organ compositions of J. S. Bach on a number of world-renowned instruments. To have had the opportunity to watch this man in action was inspiring, even unsettling. He aimed at excellence, and to my mind achieved it. It was not perfection, since that is an arbitrary and self-serving concept. There is no perfect way of playing the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. But there is a way that honours the work, presents it as something fresh, and inspires others. Peter’s way, in other words.
Many glowing reviews appeared praising Hurford's approach to Bach and Buxtehude's compositions. Volume 3 of his "Bach, Organ Works" on Argo won the 1979 Gramophone Award in the Instrumental category. The Gramophone Awards are widely regarded as the most prestigious classical music awards in the world.
Whatever you’ve read about Hurford’s Bach is true. Thinking musician, informed scholar, consummate virtuoso, his Decca cycle is magnificent. Experience a grand D minor Toccata and Fugue (the one transcribed by Busoni and Stokowski). Indulge in a brilliantly articulated G major Fantasia, BWV 572. Listen to a Toccata, Adagio and Fugue that’s weighty without being pompous. Sample the culminative, rhythmic power of an imperious D major Prelude and Fugue... [A]n artist with an inspirational sense of the epic and the visionary. Physically spectacular sound. Performance: 5 (out of 5), Sound: 5 (out of 5)“”
Of curious note, one reviewer at The New York Times -- obviously not a fan of Opus 2805 -- had the following to say in an April, 1983 review of Hurford's just-completed 25-LP Bach project:
Mr. Hurford is not the flashiest or most eccentric of players - if anything, he might be criticized for a certain blandness, especially since his favorite organ on these recordings, that of the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows in Toronto, can be similarly faulted.“”
Notwithstanding Mr. Rockwell's comments, we invite you to judge for yourself. We've assembled links to many performances below and hope you enjoy!