Libera is a London-based choir of boys – 24 on this recording. Although they sing in the style of the great English boys' choirs, their repertoire on CD consists almost exclusively of arrangements of popular classics – the slow movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, Caccini's Ave Maria, and so on – and original works by their director Robert Prizeman. There are lush but largely unobtrusive electronic (i.e., synthesized) accompaniments, although occasionally a "trance" beat is added, which I can take or leave. What Russell Watson is to tenors, Libera is to boys' choirs. That is not meant as an insult. The singers are well-prepared, and their voices are spectacularly pure and beautiful. They wear white robes, but to my eyes, the robes look more like "hoodies." While one might cluck disapprovingly over Libera in theory, it is hard to do so in practice!
Angel Voices is their fifth album, and their third for EMI Classics. (Confusingly, "Angel Voices" was an earlier name for this ensemble. Previously, they also were known as the Saint Philip's Boys' Choir.) Prizeman has varied the formula not one whit this time around, so Angel Voices – so aptly named! – should be just as successful as its predecessors. The innovation on this album is the inclusion of Going Home, based on the slow movement from Dvořák's "New World" Symphony. (Apparently EMI is so pleased with it that they programmed it twice on the CD – in its complete version at the end, and in a "radio edit" which is only 27 seconds shorter.) The other classics are Be Still My Soul (the melody from the central section of Sibelius's Finlandia), Sanctus (based on Pachelbel's Canon), and I Vow to Thee, My Country (the central section of "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets.) The composers of Far Away and Abide With You are Takatsugu Muramatsu and W. H. Monk, respectively. Prizeman's lovely arrangement of Franz Gruber's Silent Night also is included. The remaining tracks – there are 15 tracks in all – are original compositions by Prizeman. As a composer, his talents are not to be underestimated. Always With You is a great bit of writing, and the Recordare is at least on the Andrew Lloyd Webber level. To say he knows how to write effectively for boys' voices is not damning him with faint praise.
Like its recent predecessors, though, Angel Voices has a problem, and the name of the problem is duplication. Almost half of the selections here appeared on Visions, their previous CD, albeit not necessarily in identical versions. There are both good and bad reasons why this might be the case. One good reason is that boys' voices change, and the membership of Libera is perforce constantly changing too. New boys must want an opportunity to record the ensemble's earlier "hits" – who could blame them? Prizeman wants each new CD to better than the last, I am sure. Greed and laziness, or some combination of the two, would be bad reasons – God forbid (literally!) that they should taint such a spiritual CD. I like Libera, so I am going to downplay the bad reasons and hope the right ones are the good ones! Judging from comments I have read here and there, however, I think consumers are getting annoyed with these disc-to-disc duplications. I am too.
Angel Voices has been engineered like a pop album, with added reverb, effects, and whatnot. This might bother some listeners more than it bothers me. One can't deny the sensual beauty of the results.
Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle