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27.12.11

Twelve Days of Christmas: Cantus

available at Amazon
Christmas with Cantus

(released on October 4, 2011)
CTS-1211 | 54'03"
We took note of Cantus, an all-male vocal ensemble formed at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, a few years ago when they performed at the Kennedy Center with Trio Mediæval. In the choice of music for that performance, the group seemed to remain too much in the world of the collegian a cappella group, and their latest recording, although it has some beautiful tracks, makes the same misstep. The sound, captured in a chapel at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, is lovely, with a beautifully blended and balanced sound coming unraveled only at a few places where volume was applied over-zealously. The group's rendition of Franz Biebl's lush Ave Maria is calm and warm, as is the world premiere recording of a new setting of the O Magnum Mysterium text by Brian A. Schmidt, not a bad piece but hard to distinguish from the work of many choral composers, like Whitacre and Tavener, whose equally undistinguished Awed by the Beauty is also featured. The typical sampling of carols from around the world, in arrangements by the group's members and others, turns up some British favorites (Nowell Nowell is the Salutacion and Coventry Carol), Native American carols (Twas in the Moon of Wintertime and Heleluyan), and other choices from France, Russia, Slovenia, and Scandinavia. Many readers will cringe, therefore, at the Bing Crosby turn the album takes, with a cute Carol of the Bells, the despicable Do You Hear What I Hear? (performed with guitar and finger-cymbals, as if at church camp), and a smarmy Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Worst of all, the group sneaks in The Little Drummer Boy, a tune that is as tedious as it is impossible to erase from one's memory, weaving it in perniciously with a Burgundian carol about a drummer, echoed by a drum circle of random percussion. So, a guilty pleasure perhaps, but lovely music to play in the background at your Christmas party.

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