Calmus review: polish and precision

A wonderful German vocal ensemble's Shakespeare-themed concert 


In a classical music world full of a cappella vocal ensembles, the German group Calmus stands out.

First of all, they sound gorgeous, miraculously so. The five of them — soprano Isabel Jantschek, countertenor Sebastian Krause, tenor Tobias Pöche, baritone Ludwig Böhme, and bass Manuel Helmeke — have wonderful voices, but so do the members of Stile Antico, The Tallis Scholars, and any number of other groups. There are, after all, many, many lovely voices in the world. But Calmus sounds especially good because of their unparalleled ensemble precision. It’s not a cold and implacable precision, but a cohesion of timbres, phrasing, and breathing that can only be the result of talent and a great many very carefully planned rehearsal hours.

Calmus performed at Portland’s St. Philip Neri church. Photo: John Green.

In a program of 25 selections on a Sunday afternoon concert at Portland’s St. Philip Neri Church on April 30, sponsored by Friends of Chamber Music, these five singers showed how all that rehearsing can pay off. Their show was the smoothest, the most polished I’ve ever seen. They started, sang, and ended each piece, exactly together, without looking at one another and without anyone setting a tempo; instead they made contact with their audience. Presenting their program in sets of about five selections each, they reduced interruptions for applause until after each set, and they moved from one selection to the next without retuning, having taken a pitch for just the first number.


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