Cantus vocal ensemble makes national news, part 1



Photo credit: Curtis Johnson

In this Sunday’s New York Times, James Oestreich reviewed Twin Cities vocal ensemble Cantus‘ latest CD, “That Eternal Day.” Oestreich compares and contrasts the album with two other releases by Ensemble Phoenix Munich and Apollo’s Fire.

While Oestreich had some positive things to say about “That Eternal Day,” overall he found it lacking. Here’s what he had to say:

When the male chorus Cantus of Minnesota takes up “Simple Gifts” on its new CD, “That Eternal Day” (Cantus Recordings CTS-1210), in an arrangement by Stephen Caracciolo, tenors alternate lines, distending each sentimentally and pausing distractedly, over a backdrop of drones. Then in the chorus (“When true simplicity is gained”) things get really complicated, with soupy harmonies that occasionally curdle; busy counterpoint; more stops and starts; more drones; repeated changes of direction. It’s exhausting.

…Cantus fares better in William Walker’s foursquare hymn “Wondrous Love,” from “The Southern Harmony,” with a vigorous, mostly straightforward a cappella.

…Individual comparisons aside, the Cantus recording offers many satisfactions, none greater than a touching, ineffably simple performance of “The 23rd Psalm (Dedicated to My Mother)” by Bobby McFerrin. But this is also the most problematic disc over all. From its opening — the spiritual “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight,” in an arrangement full of finger snapping, hand clapping and humming — the group is prone to a certain peppy slickness. The vocalization is typically polished, but there are lapses in the discipline essential to a cappella performance, notably in enunciation (on one occasion, “true zimplizity”).

You can read the full review here.

Well, as you might imagine, some folks over at MPR Classical (where the members of Cantus have been “artists in residence” for the past year) were not in agreement with Oestreich’s review. Check back later today for a rebuttal from MPR’s Brian Newhouse.