Review: Virtuoso classical ensemble goes pop

  • Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2008 - 11:15 AM

Cantus' eclectic concert demonstrates the group's stylistic versatility.

In the crowded choral landscape of the local arts scene, smaller ensembles need to do something original, unique and even outrageous to get noticed. The classical ensemble Cantus is presenting just such a novelty at Minneapolis' Southern Theater this weekend -- its first-ever pop concert. With this program, the nine-member male ensemble demonstrates its stylistic versatility.

Cantus is noted for its eclectic classical programming, and this repertoire is equally eclectic. The program includes the full spectrum of pop music, including blues, doo-wop, bossa nova, samba, country, bluegrass and techo. The group has wisely chosen numbers that could be successfully interpreted by its forces.

Each singer is a capable soloist, but it is as an exceptionally tight ensemble that the singers excel. They produce a brilliant sound from the highest falsetto to the deepest bass. They bring the same technical proficiency to this repertoire that they bring to classical music, but don't take it too seriously. There is a sense of freedom and improvisation to the performance and genuine camaraderie in the patter between songs, making the whole evening a great deal of fun.

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely," Curtis Mayfield's "It's Alright," and George Michael's "Something to Save" are particular standouts.

There are a few questionable choices. The Oak Ridge Boys' country hit "Elvira" is done a little too tongue-in-cheek. And the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," arranged through the sensibilities of Aretha Franklin, is too clever by half.

But with such a broad spectrum of material, there will inevitably be some matters of personal taste.

All the arrangements are by members of Cantus themselves and feature a wide range of instrumentation. Strong accompaniment is provided by Lee Blaske on keyboards and David Hagedorn on percussion, including everything from drums and bongos to xylophone and marimbas. The singers themselves play instruments ranging from electric bass, accordion and autoharp to harmonica, tambourine and spoons.

At times, the resonant acoustics of the Southern Theater muddy the rich harmonies and obscures Cantus' usually impeccable diction.

But this concert cannot be deemed other than a success, and expectations are high for the forthcoming CD being recorded at these concerts.

The evening certainly launches the men toward their debut at the Kennedy Center in Washington later this month.

William Randall Beard writes about music.


    Who: Cantus: "Covers: A Pop Concert"

    When: 7 p.m. today.

    Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Av. S., Minneapolis.

    Tickets: $25. 612-340-1725.

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