Chanticleer: Sound in Spirit (CD review)

Warner Classics R2 61941.

Chanticleer is the immaculate male choir that has gained so much attention in recent years, winning numerous plaudits, and becoming so popular. Their disc Sound in Spirit is a slight departure from their usual early religious music, traditional American tunes and hymns, gospel, spirituals, Renaissance songs, and the like. I don't think it's their best material, but for lightweight music, it works well enough.

If I may quote from the album's producer, Steve Barnett: "It is the first Chanticleer recording to be conceived as a total experience--ideally it should be listened to from beginning to end without pause--thus there is no silence or space between tracks. It is the first to add outdoor ambient sounds." And I might add, it is also the first Chanticleer recording to sound like a throwback to the "New Age" music of the 1980's and 90's so beloved of a big segment of the record-buying public.

The music of the disc dates from the thirteenth century to the present, from chants and liturgical Latin texts to modern compositions written especially for this recording. The choir sings them magnificently, their voices as always sounding three times bigger than they are, with phrasing and intonation of unparalleled precision.

However, for many listeners the whole affair may sound like a single, extended, seventy-five-minute note. With the exception of two early works dating from the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries and one Native American-inspired piece, most of the music sounds so relaxed, so ephemerally vaporous, it borders on the transitory and commonplace. What's more, the recording, made at Skywalker Sound, is so resonant most of the time and the natural ambient noise of frogs, crickets, and a running creek so clich├ęd, that the album runs the risk of appearing like one of those old "Mystic Moods" concoctions of the Sixties.

I don't mean to be harsh. The music really is quite spiritual in nature, and the singers are glorious, as always. But the disc did not persuade me while listening to it that I would want to play it again as anything but background wallpaper, and I'm not sure that is what Chanticleer had in mind. OK, I know I'm just being a grump; most people will love it.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa