Review of Libera concert August 5, 2010
Dr. Jeffrey Carter, Chair
Department of Music
Webster University

Libera, a British boychoir from South London, tells us that their sound is built around the voices of the young singers, the haunting yet vibrant sound of the treble voice that has long been a feature of choral music, particularly in the church.

The group’s concert on Thursday at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis was in turn haunting and vibrant indeed.

Lovers of the British cathedral sound, and of the boychoir sound (and I count myself among these happy few), were in blissful delight as Libera worked their way through two long sets.  To be clear, theirs was music that was not too difficult, repetitive in an Enya-esque way, redolent of New Age harmonies (and technology), and incredibly over-produced.  Think rock concert meets the Basilica.  The texts they sang – liturgical and vaguely religious poetry sitting side by side – didn’t matter as much as the sound itself. But what an ethereal joy it was, too, and a guilty pleasure for those of us who consider ourselves pure choral musicians.

The Cathedral’s over-abundant acoustic coupled with the technology-induced reverb to make for a splendid aural effect.  Minimal stage movement helped keep the visuals interesting, although most interesting were the 22 boys’ faces as they sang.  (I thought more than once that my own choir would benefit from seeing the joy that most of these kids exhibited.)

That massive and wondrous baldacchino was lit from below most of the evening (and so were the boys), casting giant shadows on the dome above it.  With lights glittering from the mosaics and plenty of effects from the intelligent lighting system rented for this performance, the Basilica looked like a proper rock venue.  Or like the Fabulous Fox.  In any case, I thought that the place dazzled and sparkled.

Libera employs pre-recorded percussion and rhythm section, supplementing the tracks with local string players and a solo violinist who travels with them.  The boys each wore an earpiece and a solo microphone, like any decent rock or country act.  In this sense they were less a boychoir than a boy band, larger in numbers than Menudo or New Kids, and singing a very different kind of music, but still in the same vein.  A major difference was apparent, though, whenever one of the boys addressed the audience.  While their patter was memorized and scripted, it was also humorous and enlightening.  I don’t know many other ten-year-olds who can deliver lines with such cuteness and poise.

And what of the music?  While I was enamored throughout the concert, I noticed after fifteen minutes a sameness in the arrangements.  Music was borrowed from Pachelbel, Saint-Saens, Dvorak, and others, but nearly every arrangement was cut from the same cloth.  Since most of the arrangements (and many of the compositions themselves) were by the group’s leader Robert Prizeman, this trait may be understandable.  One would hope, however, than other composers and arrangers might be called on to supplement and stretch the scope of what this group does.

Departing cathedral organist John Romeri, founder of the Cathedral Concerts who presented this performance, joined the boys several times on the pipe organ.  John’s presence in the sound mix added welcome variety to the textures.  His presence in this city and cultural landscape will be sorely missed.

With a massive sound board and a significant lighting board, Libera’s concert was not the usual fare for Cathedral Concerts.   A very happy audience on a warm summer night seemed pleased, though.  Who could fail to be charmed by the pure treble sound, and that accent that draws us to a different world and time and ethos?