If the male singing group Cantus didn't book itself so solid during the holiday season, it probably could double the number of its annual "Christmas with Cantus" concerts and still sell them out. It's a tough ticket to get, but Friday morning's first performance at Minneapolis' Westminster Presbyterian Church demonstrated that it's one well worth seeking.
That's because the harmonious nonet always brings some music that's old but likely new to you, as well as fresh and fascinating works that fit in well. Throw in some enjoyable arrangements of familiar seasonal tunes, and you have a program that shows off the ensemble's versatility and vocal prowess.
Granted, there were times when the dry acoustics in Westminster's meeting hall handicapped works that likely will be wrapped in warmth within resonant churches like Wayzata's St. Bartholomew's or the chapel at the University of St. Thomas. Like Cantus member Timothy Takach's lovely arrangement of the Huron carol, " 'Twas in the Moon of Wintertime," or the group's signature song, Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria."
But there was still much beauty to be found in recent fare like Joel Phillips' "Little Lamb" and Malcolm Dalglish's "Water Under Ice," both works playing to this group's talent for voluminous layering of voices. And a pair of winter sports-themed tunes were great fun: Vince Guaraldi's "Skating" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" whetted my appetite for Cantus exploring jazz more often, while its way with comedy came through in a song by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis that presented the group as viewers of an invisible sledding party.
Considering the group's ample December workload - four more performances of its World War I musical theater piece, "All Is Calm," this weekend, plus three repeats of this program next week - it's no surprise that a touch of strain was audible in some high, exposed tenor notes. But odds are that will be cleaned up by next week...or will probably sound just fine in more forgiving acoustics.