Review: Angels Sing: Angels in America
Looking for a good CD or DVD to purchase for Easter? Check out Libera’s new Angels Sing: Angels in America.
Forget the unfortunate title that, if you follow Broadway, will remind you of a much-lauded play about homosexual men dying of AIDS. The concert and disk featuring British boychoir Libera is called “Angels in America” because they sound like angels (the group’s original name was Angel Voices), and because the concert was filmed in America, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
LIibera (pronounced “LIB-rah”) takes the traditional soprano-y boy choir sound to new places. The 40 boys from from the London choir have superbly trained voices and display great control, precision, and range. In boychoir style, they substitute a sort of ethereal perfection for a the emotion and passion that older singers employ.
It’s that detachment and devotion to pure sound that makes boychoirs seem almost otherworldly. But otherworldy doesn’t mean bloodless. A good boychoir can make the listener, too, enjoy tone and sound for their own sake and enter into a song with a sort of innocence and purity the singers’ voices inspire.
When the songs are hymns, the result is a different sort of prayer that most of us, burdened with cares and fears, manage every day — music that promotes contemplation and a sort of restful conversation with God in which we can lay down our heavy selves and let the words flow into our hearts with the music.
When the songs are secular, they similarly invite us to restful contemplation on the words of the poet or lyricist. Libera’s signature sound, on display here in songs of both types, combines a variety of historical styles into new arrangements created just for the choirs, sometimes written around specific soloists.
Now touring the United States for the first time, Libra filmed a PBS special (in rotation this spring) at the Shrine. The DVD of the concert is beautifully filmed and shows off the spectacular Catholic shrine as well as the white-robed boys, who are as unassuming and at home on the stage as only the very young can be.
The concert features 16 pieces in a variety of musical types, with arrangements that are “both ancient and modern,” as one of the boys says in a video introduction. The studio CD includes Protestant and Catholic hymns, the spiritual “Wayfaring Stranger”, a lovely “America the Beautiful” that’s a gift to their host country, and Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”
The album opens with a sprightly “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee,” in which the boys’ voices soar over a lush orchestra, and ends with a live recording of contemporary British composer — and Libera founder and director — Robert Prizeman’s “How Shall I Sing of that Majesty?” A Sanctus written for Pachelbel’s famous canon is one highlight, as is their own arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria.
A great addition to any musical library, Angels Sing is available for Easter but not confined to it — you’ll want to play this all year long.
Libera, Angels Sing: Angels in America CD and concert DVD are available at stores everywhere, on iTunes, and at Amazon.com.
To see a video of Libera singing O Sanctissima, click here.
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