REVIEW: Who cares about theme when Cantus provides so many highlights?

By Rob Hubbard – Pioneer Press (St. Paul) – October 16, 2011

Cantus concerts are usually very focused affairs. The nine-man vocal group tends to cling to one theme for an evening, be it spirituals, songs of the sea, their own inventive arrangements of pop and rock, or a popular annual Christmas program.

But maybe the singers were due for a “Best of Cantus” compilation concert. That’s what the group’s season-opening program sounded like Saturday night at St. Paul’s Sundin Music Hall, ranging from some of the earliest written harmonies to a fairly fresh commission. Among the stops along the way were German lieder, an Indian setting of a Sufi prayer, and a bit of Beatles and Michael Jackson. It may sound scattershot, but it underlined the group’s versatility and made the evening a welcome celebration of its skills.

Dubbed “On the Shoulders of Giants,” the concert featured interstitial speeches that took an admirable stab at linking the disparate pieces. However, the impression was strong that Cantus decided what they wanted to sing and tried to find a way to tie it together after choosing.

But that’s OK, as long as they offer lovely Renaissance-era polyphony by Tomas Luis de Victoria, bring such an ideal balance of sweetness and sadness to Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann, and distill the Midwest choral tradition down to its essence on Paul Manz’s “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.”

Those were but a few highlights in a concert with several. A tone of loss and a wistful emergence from grieving held sway through the six works preceding intermission, reaching a quiet climax with Cantus member Timothy Takach’s “Luceat Eis,” a setting of a Requiem mass excerpt that he wrote for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy. Equally involving was “We Two,” Steven Sametz’s adaptation of Walt Whitman poetry.

And it was great fun when the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was used as a tool to explore nine centuries of song in three minutes. Chris Foss’ arrangement was a clever condensation of what the whole program was about: showing off what Cantus can do in a wide variety of styles.

Rob Hubbard can be reached at rhubbard@pioneerpress.com.

Who: Cantus

What: “On the Shoulders of Giants”

When and where: 3 p.m. today, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 630 E. Wayzata Blvd., Wayzata; 10:30 a.m. Friday, Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina; 3 p.m. next Sunday, Church of St. Michael, 611 S. Third St., Stillwater

Tickets: $25-$10, available at 612-435-0055 or cantussings.org

Capsule: A satisfying vocal variety pack.