The Siren's Call

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You might guess from the "live concert highlights" subtitle of this album that this release by the San Francisco male vocal group Chanticleer is some kind of compilation of live recordings. In fact, it's an all-new release drawn from a single concert, or at least from two performances of the same program, and it represents Chanticleer at its best. The title "The Siren's Call" refers to both the theme of the entire program and to a couple of specific compositions: Chen Yi's I Hear the Siren's Call, which was dedicated to this enduring 12-member group, and Mason Bates' Die Lorelei, a setting of Heinrich Heine's poem about the mythical German temptress who lures sailors to their deaths in the Rhine. The rest of the program goes outward to beauty, temptation, and sexual attraction more generally, and also toward the more literally related theme of shipwreck. The most striking work on the album may be Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Canticum calamitatis maritimae, a work that fuses excerpts from the requiem mass, Psalm 107, and Latin-language radio broadcasts from Finland's Nuntii Latini (it's still on the air, and you can listen to it online) reporting the disaster. This is all mixed together with a variety of musical neo-primitive signs including an octatonic scale, the hymn Nearer My God, to Thee, and chant-like solo lines. It sounds bizarre, but it has quite a powerful effect, and it offers a pause for dark reflection on the predominantly romantic material on the rest of the program. As usual, Chanticleer blends music from the Renaissance to the modern era in a logical but varied sequence, and the group is vocally in fine form: it has a sweet yet slightly tangy sound that's unlike anyone else on the market. A strong outing that will appeal to lovers of a cappella singing.

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