Cantus December 9, 2005
Cantus at Cerritos: An Extraordinary Christmas Concert
By Glen Creason
If there was such a thing as a musical compass with say, Brittany Spears at due North then Cantus, the male vocal ensemble would be directly opposite in a straight southern point toward excellence. This superb and sophisticated group from the Twin Cities astounded and impressed an urbane but extremely enthusiastic crowd at the Performing Arts Center on Friday evening. The nine member troupe goes so far beyond just a chorus or “singing group” it strains the thesaurus to give them proper tribute. This concert was billed as “Away in a Manger” connoting a Christmas bent but it ventured across the globe and crossed holiday lines and historical epochs demonstrating the limitless capacity of the human voice in harmony.
The first half of the show was intellectually stimulating besides being a rare treat for the ears. They opened with a medieval chant from the 9th century “Benedicta sit Sancta Trinitas” that was pure, sweet and breathtaking in its variations. This was followed by the gentle lament sung by King David for his son Absalon, written in the 16th century and “Vere languores nostros” from the 15th. Cantus demonstrated absolute perfection in their diction, timing and harmonies in these opening pieces while building a quiet dignity aided by the formal tuxedos and elegant manner they all wore on stage. Any possibilities of stuffiness were sent packing however, when they performed one of many playful pieces next, a children’s song composed by Edvard Grieg “Badn-Lat” in which tenor Shahzore Shah delightfully portrayed a kitten with cold paws. Probably the best version I have heard of the classic American folk song “Shenandoah” followed along with two spirituals done with absolutely pristine clarity. Yet, an international theme abounded including a Japanese rowing song, a playful “Pseudo Yoik” from Lapland and the most incredible four minutes of vocal art since Bobby McFerrin last visited in the Indian raga “Ramkali.”
While the second half of the performance was decidedly more seasonal it was no less full of surprises and superlatives. “Ave Maria” and “Hail Mary” were truly religious experiences and “Go Tell it On the Mountain” and “Los Reyes Magos” from Argentina had rhythm and vibrant energy. While “Winter Wonderland” and “Deck the Halls” might seem like old chestnuts they were all shiny and new with Cantus’ take which went from a seamless barbershop chorus to a be-bop kind of sound. The great dedication and obvious heavy rehearsal time involved in this kind of performance shows in every detail of the show. The interplay of voices is not just textured and well-measured but like the Bayeux tapestry of song. The final piece of “Betelehemu” by Nigerian drum great Babatunde Olatunji was simply magnificent leaving the crowd awestruck but on their feet cheering. Using some percussion, their bodies and every bit of the five tenors, two baritones and two bass singers Cantus cast a spell of intricate sounds. Even when the young men took a couple of curtain calls the appreciative hall begged for more. A beautiful “Silent Night” encore punctuated a really extraordinary evening of singing. A tip of the quill to the Cerritos Center for finding and offering a truly wonderful performing group, broadening and lifting up the local musical stage.