The Libera phenomenon continues with this concert release, on both DVD and CD, of material taken largely from their Angel Voices studio CD, released in 2006. These concerts took place in the St. Pieterskerk, Leiden, in the Netherlands at the end of May 2007, and give viewers an opportunity to see the boys in action, as it were.
Libera, a London-based boys choir, has had its current name since 1998, albeit with ever-changing membership, as older boys leave and new ones come up through the ranks. The range of ages is between 7 and 16, and 18 boys sing on these discs. In contrast to its predecessor groups – the Saint Philip's Boys' Choir and Angel Voices – Libera's repertoire is almost entirely made up of arrangements of popular classics and original works by director Robert Prizeman. Accompaniments usually are electronic, and sometimes a "trance" beat is added. One can't deny the slickness of the musical presentation, but neither can one deny that the singing is, in its own way, miraculous. As I said in my Classical.net review of Angel Voices, while one might cluck disapprovingly over Libera in theory, it is hard to do so in practice! Hearing them is a genuinely moving experience.
Most of the songs from Angel Voices are included here. As can be seen from the headnote, there is a heavy emphasis on classics that Prizeman adapted for Libera, whether or not they really are appropriate for sacred texts. (It is best not to deeply analyze the connection between tears in "Lacrimosa" and the watery "Aquarium" from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals.) The music by Tilley and Muramatsu is likeable, and Prizeman's original works likewise suggest the influence of John Rutter and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and that's nothing of which to be ashamed!
Live, Libera's performances straddle the sacred and the secular, just like its repertoire. The boys wear hooded white robes, and if you look closely, you also will see that each wears a tiny microphone – a fact they admit to between two of the songs. Some of the boys also have some sort of device stuck in their ears. I suspect that this is to give them the correct pitches, if not more. Instead of standing on risers, the boys arrange themselves on a white stage, sometimes changing positions from song to song. Occasionally, they perform simple movements. On the DVD, it is hard to see how much Prizeman actually conducts. He's definitely not standing out in front of the choir waving his arms. There's also a lot of dramatic lighting, which contributes to the already rather confusing atmosphere of this "show," for indeed, it is primarily about entertainment, even though it involves a choir of boys singing in a church. The boys don't sound much different live than they did on Angel Voices. The beatific high notes, uncanny blending, and intensity of feeling remain in place. I don't think Prizeman leaves much to chance, whether Libera is singing in a recording studio or in front of an audience. There's a lot of discipline here, although (given the microphones) I am not ready to rule out the role of electronics in what Libera does.
Unlike the CD, the DVD includes applause between all of the songs, and the boys' somewhat woodenly perky spoken introductions to some of the songs. It also includes two more songs from the concert, "Ave Maria" and "Always With You," both by Prizeman. Also, there's a ten-minute segment titled "Libera In Their Own Words," in which some of the boys are interviewed. The editing is rapid, so it is hard to tell what the boys really are like, but their answers suggest that they are, in fact, "real people," and that their heads have not been turned by fame.
If you like Libera, purchasing the DVD seems like the way to go, especially because it is not much more expensive than the CD. If you can't stand the applause and the introductions, just skip over them!
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle