Song of a Czech = Works of DVORAK & JANACEK – Cantus – Cantus

Song of a Czech = DVORAK: Choral Songs, B 66; Song of a Czech, B 73; Three Male Choruses, B 76; Five Male Choruses, B 87; JANACEK: Four Male Partsongs, JW IV/17; Ave Maria, JW IV/16; Three Male Choruses, JW IV/19; True Love, JW IV/8 – Cantus – Cantus CTS 1213, 71:43 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Cantus is a well-known men’s vocal ensemble with a number of fine recordings to their credit. Most of them have been rather eclectic collections gathered around a certain theme, so this one represents a bit of a departure for them in the concentration on music created for a specific genre by two composers separated only by 20 years and sharing life for about 50, during that time a well-cemented and documented friendship springing up between them.

When listening to this before doing any research I was struck at how similar in spirit—and sometimes in compositional method as well—these two composers are in these works written for male chorus. But then I realized that it makes perfect sense, as Janacek, whose late output is far beyond his older colleague’s in terms of style and harmonic language, wrote his choruses earlier in life, and in fact was a conductor of several choirs, and had exposure to this style of music, often in popular demand as the songs were mainly secular in nature and well suited to concerts of all kinds. Dvorak on the other hand, came to the genre late in life but with no less passion, and it was Janacek who actually programmed many of them. One can’t say that these are “important” works in the oeuvre of either composer in terms of overall significance, but you can say that they are significant in that they enrich a literature that certainly needed it at the time. For us today perhaps a small dose goes over well, and I did find that the “sameness” of spirit in listening to these 73 minutes wore thin after about a half-hour; however, that’s hardly the fault of Cantus, who sing them all beautifully and have done us a great favor by devoting a whole album dedicated to this music with its close relationship binding both composers.

The hall at Carleton College in Minnesota seems a perfect place to record this type of music, and the engineers do a fine job in their realistic portrayal.

—Steven Ritter

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