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CD Review

New Dawn

Libera/Robert Prizeman
EMI Classics 519354-0 DDD 54:43
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Knowing a good thing (or at least a lucrative thing) when they see it, EMI Classics seems determined to ensure that we are provided with a regular supply of Libera CDs. Here is the latest. Libera is a London-based boys' choir whose members range in age from seven to sixteen. It has been around for several years now, although its membership is subject to frequent change, given the ravages of puberty! Its director is Robert Prizeman, who has composed much of its repertory, and who has arranged most of the rest from classical works, not all of them sacred. Libera is cleverly positioned to be "spiritual" (in a New Age-y sense) without being committed to one sacred tradition or another. The boys dress in white robes, and any physical similarity to angels is, I would guess, purely intentional!

New Dawn repeats the successful formula established on earlier releases, even down to the repetition of selections that Libera already has recorded elsewhere. The innovation here, if one can call it that, is the introduction of two pop songs: one by Enya, and the other by the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson. It is a bit of shock to hear a soloist, who sounds no older than nine or ten, singing to us, "I was sitting in a crummy movie with my hands on my chin." (Where were his parents?) The song is hardly revelatory, although Prizeman and co-arranger Rob Mathes cleverly have tricked it out in choral harmonies both appropriate for Libera and reminiscent of the Beach Boys. As far Enya, I admit that I have been trying to avoid her music for more than a decade now, and "Orinoco Flow" makes me feel that my avoidance has not been unjust!

Libera can make you feel both uplifted and in danger of a sugar overdose, often at the same time. I love their CDs, although I feel a bit guilty saying so. It is fascinating to hear their albums teeter on the edge of bad taste without actually tipping over. The boys are at their best when they are allowed to sing, without electronic trickery, and without their sometimes dubious accompaniments. (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra is credited here. Nevertheless, many of Libera's selections sound as if they are supported by synthesizers, so smooth and boneless are the accompaniments.) To give credit where credit is due, Prizeman is a good composer in much the same way that John Rutter is, and both obviously know how to get superb work out of their respective choirs. Furthermore, Libera's sound truly is, well … heavenly. It's easy to make fun of Libera, but if you listen to them with your critical faculties turned down low, you'll probably admit there's nothing quite as ethereal and touching, at least among boys' choirs, as the sounds that they produce. Suffice it to say that Libera's fans will not be disappointed with New Dawn.

Copyright © 2009, Raymond Tuttle