Listening Notes – “A Harvest Home” by Cantus

By this time in November, I’m happily shuffling more than 40 Christmas CDs in the family stereo. But this week I take a quick break to listen to some great Americana and celebrate Thanksgiving.

For several years I’ve enjoyed the Public Radio special “Thanksgiving With Cantus” and happily, they have released an album of live highlights from various years.
“A Harvest Home” (2014) by Cantus presents 17 pieces recorded live for broadcast. In addition to great Americana, they celebrate the spirit of Thanksgiving with food songs like “Food, Glorious Food” (Lionel Bart from Oliver!) and “Tyteberet” (Grieg) and drink songs like Mendelssohn’s “Trinklied.”
Here are three pieces that particularly strike me.
Holy Manna (William Moore – Sacred Harp)
Cantus has become expert at translating the Sacred Harp tradition through their “legit” choral sound. This performance is very compelling on account of their resonant, intense tone. When I hear Cantus sing this type of material, I am consistently struck by the idea that the harmony is the point. In a melody-driven musical landscape, it’s striking and refreshing.
Fiddle Tune (arr. Chris Foss)
A wordless interpretation of a classic fiddle tune by Cantus bass Chris Foss. This type of piece owes a lot to the Swingle Singers but Foss does beautiful things with timbre and distribution of the melody to make it engaging. This connects Cantus to the world of vocal jazz in a way that works well for them.
Simple Gifts (arr. Stephen Caracciolo)
What a magnificent arrangement. Simple Gifts is a tune that scares me off as an arranger, since Copland seems to own it so thoroughly. But Caracciolo has found new ground and it is sung so, so well. I hope to program this with the right group of Rockford Aces down the road.
Over the years, Cantus has become one of the primary sonic models for my group – they sing TTBB repertoire rather than SATB like Chanticleer, and they approach music across a wide range of styles. I’ve programmed several pieces that I first heard on their CDs and remain inspired by their artistry.
How lucky are we that they are still making recordings as beautiful as this one – here’s hoping they continue to do so for a long time.

It’s too late to get a copy of the CD in the mail to play during Thanksgiving dinner, but you can get it from iTunes or stream it on Spotify while you wait for your CD to come in. Buy it directly from their website.  

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