Against the Dying of the Light, a new CD from Cantus

The combination of accessible world music and transparent sound featured on Let Your Voice Be Heard, the CD released in 2001 by male-voice choir Cantus, made it an audiophile favorite. Stereophile editor John Atkinson returned to Minnesota earlier this year to record Cantus for a second time. This time, however, the program was very different: an ambitious sequence of choral works illustrating a musical and poetic progression from grief and sorrow to consolation and joy, following the tragic events of September 2001.

On its new CD, Against the Dying of the Light (CTS-1202), Cantus takes the listener on an emotional journey, from the contemplative calm of Jean Sibelius's Hymnus, through the cataclysm of fellow Finnish composer Veljo Tormis' defiance of the God of War, Varjele, Jumala, Soasta, to the joy of Randall Thompson's Alleluia, the calm redemption of Claude Debussy's Invocation, and the final release of Samuel Barber's Heaven-Haven.

JA captured the sound of the choir (accompanied by a Steinway piano in the Debussy and a massive gong in the Tormis) in 24-bit resolution at an 88.2kHz sample rate. The post-processing and mastering—performed entirely in the digital domain to preserve the resolution—proved a lengthy process. "Because this was a progression, we spent a lot of time editing and arranging the transition from one piece to another," said Cantus music director Erick Lichte. "And we really got into it in microscopic detail. [I] got really nit-picky about it, but I felt it was so important that there be no technical distractions from the message and the experience of undertaking this emotional journey."

Supplemented with a 48-page booklet designed by Cantus bass Tim Takach, which echoes the feelings of the music in its typography and design, the new CD takes its title from Dylan Thomas' poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" ("Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light"). Cantus-commissioned settings of this poem and Thomas' "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by modern composer Kenneth Jenkins are the CD's musical centerpieces.

Both Against the Dying of the Light and Let Your Voice Be Heard can be purchased from the secure "Recordings" page on this site. A feature article on the new CD's gestation will appear in the December issue of Stereophile.