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December 11, 2006

Cantus a holiday delight

Daytona Beach News Journal (FL):

By the time Cantus turned its nine voices to the holidays with "An American Christmas," halfway through Friday's concert, the audience was ready for an unusual set of seasonal sounds. The men of the Minneapolis-based a capella vocal ensemble had opened the Central Florida Cultural Endeavors concert with a gentle Spanish Renaissance chant before shifting into the mystical notes of a Hebrew prayer, made transcendent by Aaron Humble's tremulous tenor. They then began an ancient Islamic prayer with a bass continuo so deep and droning that it sounded like Tuvan throat singing, and soon rose to swirling, whirling cries of praise.

Yet even after that varied introduction, Cantus continued to surprise, and impress. The next section, four songs grouped together as "There Lies the Home," was anything but conventional. From Veljo Tormis' eerie, echoing lament for the lost Estonia and her doomed passengers, "Incantatio maris aestuosi," to a truly hair-raising rendition of Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," with bass Tom McNichols, Cantus set a new, lofty standard for vocal performance.

Every note rang out, each unsettling murmur in Tormis' "Incantatio" evoked visions of a seething sea, each strand of intricately interlaced melody was true, sure and vibrant. The impressions in "An Ameican Christmas," all elicited by the precision and passion of Cantus' flawless performance, were remarkably diverse, powerfully inclusive.

A toe-tapping spiritual, "Go Where I Send Thee," led into an exquisite rendition of "Ave Maria" and on to Kenneth Jennings' contemporary, startlingly effective composition for "O Little Town of Bethlehem." And then, in the sort of revelatory twist that was typical of Cantus' approach, the singers brought their voices together to shape the sensuous, layered sounds of Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque." Its thick, velvety sound, ideally suited to its lyrical text, vividly evoked the honeyed light and celestial sounds of the Adoration.

One of the highlights of the News-Journal Center concert came near the end. That's when E. Mani Cadet , a graduate of Stetson University and New England Conservatory of Music, brought his sweet tenor and radiant stage presence to the finger-snapping "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow!" and had his audience beaming.

Cantus, through the sheer brilliance of its programming, outstanding voices and seamless performance, transformed the two hours of its Friday concert into a holiday delight: The most wonderful time of the year.

Posted by acapnews at December 11, 2006 9:58 PM