Upper Midwest choral singers usually come off as a disciplined lot, but they sure throw off their inhibitions whenever Chanticleer and Cantus come together.
San Francisco-based Chanticleer and Minneapolis' Cantus are America's foremost full-time professional male vocal ensembles, and their mutual admiration led to a 2016 harmonic convergence at Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall that attracted the rowdiest choral crowd I've ever experienced.
When the two groups reunited Sunday afternoon on the same stage, the applause was lengthy and boisterous, shouts, whoops and whistles filling the hall.
And Cantus and Chanticleer earned the kudos with a splendidly well-executed two hours of harmonizing that can be viewed online through next Sunday. Performing together as well as separately, the groups made clear that, despite their similarities, they fill different niches in the singing world.
Chanticleer is the larger of the two ensembles, with 12 men in the fold to Cantus' eight. And the Bay Area group puts greater emphasis upon the high end of the typical male vocal range; half of its members are countertenors. Their ethereal ascents seemed even more pronounced Sunday, as one of Chanticleer's basses was out because of illness, removing some of the depth from their harmonies.
Cantus was also down a man, as tenor Alberto de la Paz was ill. (Neither of the absences was the result of a COVID diagnosis, according to Cantus' leadership.) Reduced to seven singers, Cantus was at its best when the music called for intimacy, the tight harmonies lovely, the solos often stealing the show.
But put the groups together — as they were for half of the concert — and you had an 18-man ensemble that achieved remarkable balance and sensitivity, considering they'd only been singing together for a few days.
The repertoire spanned the centuries, with Chanticleer showing why it's earned a reputation for exceptional interpretations of very old music on a lovely setting of a psalm from Italian Renaissance composer Claudio Monteverdi. Yet, for sheer beauty, nothing all afternoon eclipsed their exquisite performance of a traditional Irish tune, "Down by the Salley Gardens."
Among Cantus' standouts was a lively take on "El Manisero," a song that jazz fans may know as "Peanut Vendor." Tenor Jacob Christopher sang the lead lines with gusto and immaculately enunciated Spanish, as he did when the two groups combined for Antonio Estevez's "Mata del Anima Sola."
Cantus' most powerful offering was a set of two "N-400 Erasure Songs" by Melissa Dunphy, the texts created by erasing words from the N-400 U.S. naturalization form. They eloquently conveyed the aggressive agitation of bureaucracy and the warm comfort of a welcome.
During the concert's second half, the groups traded musical pep talks that may have been ideal for a COVID-addled audience that groaned at the concert's start when informed that the singers would be masked. Chanticleer brightened the mood with Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's "On a Clear Day," while Cantus responded with the inspiring strains of "You Will Be Found" from the musical "Dear Evan Hansen."
When the audience stood and demanded an encore, the combined forces of the two ensembles offered what's long been a signature song for each group, Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria." It was a performance permeated with reverence and soaring harmonies. As the piece reached its cathartic conclusion, the extra voices made for a much richer sound than either group could achieve on its own.
Cantus and Chanticleer
When: Streaming through 3 p.m. Feb. 6.
Tickets: $34 or pay-what-you-can.
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at email@example.com