The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Blizzard struck but — Cantus’ “All Is Calm” proves moving; Help review concerts hurt by bad weather; NPR names Top 10 Classical recordings of 2010

December 13, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

We had some pretty bad (make that very bad, as in awful) winter weather (snow and cold, ice and wind) here in Wisconsin over the weekend.

It interfered with and, I’m sure, drove down attendance for all sorts of musical events taking place just before the holidays. (It also caused the straight cancellation of “Sunday Afternoon Live From the Chazen.”)

However, I did get to hear Cantus’ singing “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914”  (below) at the Wisconsin Union Theater just before the late-autumn (yeah, winter doesn’t begin for another eight days!) blizzard set in. It was good but not big crowd, maybe a half-house or more, and a fine performance.

The radio play format was a moving re-creation by 12 men, all dressed in black suits – nine singers standing in the background and three narrators sitting on stool, reading excerpts from diaries, letters and personal accounts of what happened in No Man’s Land during the terrible, man-eating war, that slaughter house of politics.

The vocal arrangements (some by Ralph Vaughan Williams) were first-rate, with some wonderful descant and counterpoint. The voices were rich and the diction was superb. Moreover, the narrative line of the dramatic event was a first-rate job of using scissors and paste, of editing and collaging.

I think “All Is Calm” could and should become a minor holiday tradition – not as big as Handel’s “Messiah” or J.S. Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” but not neglected either. But there is little chance of that, I suppose, even though all veterans were acknowledged and asked to stand for recognition by the audience before the concert began.

If you ever have the chance to see it at bottom), you should – especially if you generally do not like holiday music because this is kind of anti-commercialism and anti-war concert provides relief. Unlike so much holiday fare it isn’t maudlin or saccharine. It has sentiment but little sentimentality.

And I hope it returns to Madison some year soon and draws a bigger audience. (I think Cantus came here on its way to Minneapolis for five repeat performances of “All Is Calm.”)

I thought a perfect encore though it would have broken out of the historical period, would have been Pete Seeger’s “Were Have All the Flowers Gone.” It fits, no matter what war is in question.


I couldn’t make it to some other events, including the UW Symphony Orchestra in Bruckner; the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s “Messiah”; and the several concerts by the Madison Youth Choirs (below).

I looked for other reviews by colleagues like John W. Barker of Isthmus and Gregg Hettmansberger of Dane101. I couldn’t find any, though if I do, I will link to them.

In the meantime, I would love it and be very grateful if some of my readers who did make it to those concerts would post their own reviews in the Comments section of this blog.

It takes a village to support the arts.


The bad weather also no doubt interfered with a lot of holiday gift shopping. But just in case you need some help or want to order something on-line, here is a link the NPR list of the Top 10 Classical recordings of 2010:

Posted in Classical music

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