REVIEW: Cantus and Chanticleer in Concert

By Pamela Espeland – MinnPost – October 5, 2016

The 2,100 people who filled a sold-out Orchestra Hall last night instead of watching the Vikings game were treated to a first-time-ever event: a joint concert by America’s two best male choruses, San Francisco-based Chanticleer and our own Cantus.

The concert came about after a grainy video of an impromptu performance in a Virginia bar went viral. So we saw and heard the 12 men of Chanticleer, the Grammy-winning supergroup in its 39th season, and the eight men of Cantus, our resident men’s vocal ensemble in its 16th year, separately and also together on the same stage. It was splendid, sublime, exhilarating and thrilling.

Chanticleer is half again the size of Cantus, with a bigger sound. It also has six countertenors, high voices that float, shimmer and soar. Hearing Cortez Mitchell sing the Rachmaninoff “Vocalise” was a date with the angel Gabriel. Chanticleer is a legendary interpreter of Renaissance music, though it has also ventured successfully into gospel, jazz, and new music.

Cantus has made a real commitment to new music, which we heard in the selections they performed at Orchestra Hall, some of which are part of the upcoming season-opening concerts, “No Greater Love than This.” Because Cantus  doesn’t have half a dozen countertenors, its sound seems more earthbound than heavenly, which is not a bad thing. Dressed in suits (Chanticleer wore tuxes), they’re less formal, and their interactions with each other are more relaxed and open.

The program spanned the centuries from the 15th (Chanticleer’s take on L’Héritier’s “Nigra Sum,” from the Song of Solomon) through the 21st (Cantus’ performance of Jeff Beal’s “Beneath Thin Blanket,” written by a former prisoner of war, full of beauty and pain and dissonance), a gorgeous Bach (“Halt was du hast”), a song by Libby Larsen with text by William Shakespeare, several African-American spirituals and Stephen Paulus’ “Pilgrims’ Hymn.”

Brought back to the stage by thunderous applause, the two groups sang an encore of “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace” and “Good News, Chariot’s Comin’,” a spiritual whose lyrics promise heavenly raiment of white robes, starry crowns and silver slippers. Which we might as well have been wearing as we glided into the night.

Here’s what should happen next: Chanticleer invites Cantus to join them for a concert in their hometown of San Francisco, then Cantus invites Chanticleer back here. Every two or three years or so, we hear them together again. A Cantus member told the crowd last night that “together we sold out Orchestra Hall for a choral music show – only in Minnesota.” Maybe not for the last time, and not only here.