Roger Treece: Philia
Timothy C. Takach: Luceat Eis
Ysaÿe M. Barnwell: Tango with God
David Lang: Manifesto
Libby Larsen: If I profane with my unworthiest hand...
Joseph Gregorio: To My Brother
Sydney Guillaume: Gagòt
Paul John Rudoi: Song of Sky and Sea
Sarah Kirkland Snider: Psalm of the Soil
Dale Warland: Evening Stars (A Teasdale Trilogy) : [Movement III: “Stars over Snow”]
(World Premiere Recordings)
Cantus, Andrew Fleser (piano) 
Recording: Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Saint Paul, Minnesota (July 18-21, 2016) – 69’40
Signum Classics SIGCD686 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in English (Individual songs in Latin and Haitian Creole)
The illustration on the CD cover is a little intimidating: Nine men striding boldly above the title, “Manifesto”. Are they angry? Will they plot an insurrection? Just what are they demanding?
But this is a different sort of manifesto, one that has nothing to do with radical politics and everything to do with love, personal and cosmic, human and divine. To convey this message, Cantus, a low-voice chorus performing without a conductor, offers 15 lyrical poems set to music, in some cases so fresh, the ink may still be damp upon the page.
The texts of these songs range from the ecstatic prayers of Rumi and Kabir, to expressions of mystical wonder by Sara Teasdale and Thomas Merton (early to mid-20th century) and beyond. The title song, Manifesto is by David Lang, a leading contemporary composer, while Libby Larsen, founder of what is now the American Composers Forum, offers a setting to tender words from Romeo and Juliet. Each song is a World Premiere, presented by one of America’s few full-time vocal chamber groups.
Love as friendship with all humanity, Philia is the theme of the first selection, with words and music by Roger Treece. The clarity and faultless timing of the Cantus singers, all first-rate soloists, is immediately evident in this reflection on human affection, buoyed by jazz harmonies and zesty syncopations. The personal morphs into a plea for divine compassion on individuals and humanity as a whole in the second song, Luceat Eis (literally translated as “Upon Them”, from the second stanza, “Let perpetual light shine upon them”), with text from the Latin Requiem Mass interpreted through music by Timothy C. Takach. This setting was composed to honor service members who died during the 9-11 terror attacks.
Humanity’s trust in God is expressed in Ysaÿe M. Barnwell’s Tango with God , based on a poem by Thomas Merton, the controversial priest and spiritual explorer. “…you are ever with me,/And never will you leave me/To face my perils alone.” Other selections include a tribute to a poet’s brother who died by suicide; a charming reflection on the messiness of love, in Haitian Creole; and songs both of the soul and of the soil. Cantus presents us with a musical buffet of current compositional practice in song and chorus, tapping into styles with an international pedigree and an inclusive view.
A theme which recurs time and again in these love poems is the falling star. “Let us be like/Two falling stars in the day sky”, rhapsodizes a poet in Paul John Rudoi’s setting of four texts from India and the Middle East. In the verse, “As One Sky” by Kabir (15th century), the composer offers playful settings of the words “swing” and “sway”, emulating the way phenomena fall from the heavens toward earth. Even the word “sky” becomes kinetic as it slides on a melisma through five notes (D, F, G, back to F, then up to A-flat) then falls softly through four (A-flat, E-flat, D, C).
Sara Teasdale’s poems, The Falling Star, On a Winter Night and Stars Over Snow, set by Dale Warland, including a piano component, conclude this rare manifesto in which the principles of love, compassion and grace eclipse hard-edged edicts of power and control, with sublime musicality.