REVIEW: Opera News on “That Eternal Day”

by Joanne Sydney Lessner – Opera News – October 2011

The most striking thing about the nine-voice male a cappella group Cantus is how much heart they put into their singing. Their arrangements in this compilation of American sacred music are imaginative but not too flashy, their balance is perfectly tempered, their sound as pure as baptismal waters, but it’s their spiritual commitment to the material that stands out. They capture the listener’s interest immediately with their infectious, irresistible opener, “There’s a Meeting Here Tonight.” Two alternate (and alternately-titled) settings of the text we know as “Amazing Grace” provide a welcome departure from the omnipresent tune that has saturated our national gatherings, both sacred and secular. One of these, entitled “Jewett,” is a rousing call, while the other, “What I Have Done,” is a gospel hymn with shifting major and minor harmonies. In “He Never Said a Mumberlin’ Word,” the voices navigate the irregular rhythms in absolute unity without a stray gasp of air or straggling consonant. Balancing stirring entries such as “Run On” are reflective songs such as the exquisitely rendered “The Sweet By and By.” Cantus also offers a tender performance of “Simple Gifts” that is among the loveliest I have heard. The clean gravel of the bass voices is a particular treat throughout, especially anchoring “Goin’ Home,” but they get a chance to shine in their solo lines in the inspirational “Witness.” Cantus performs without a dedicated conductor or music director, rotating leadership among its members song by song. It’s a process that could only work with singers devoid of ego. Judging from their presentation here, the gentlemen of Cantus know themselves well and value the relative greatness of the whole.