Libera, the decade-spanning, revolving-door-style boys’ choral ensemble, clearly fulfils several different roles for both listener and artist. It’s a non-profit organisation that fosters the talents of young Londoners from all backgrounds, whisks them around the world on tours and lets them record popular albums – all unquestionably good things for seven-to-10-year-olds to be doing. What, though, can be said of the final and lasting product, ie the albums? Peace is their 17th, and offers nothing in the way of musical innovation, but plenty in the way of fuel for cynics.
Broadly, you might describe Peace as a hybrid of New Age and classical – the instrumentation is sparse and largely electronically manipulated, but takes its source material from a light classical and choral canon. Consequently, we hear recognisable and unchallenging melodies from the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (here delivered too fast and robbed of all maturity), an almost-obligatory John Rutter number and several traditional works, mostly arranged by Libera’s mastermind, Robert Prizeman.
As director, Prizeman’s influence looms long over Libera. Because it is an ensemble made up of children, one suspects that any stylistic decisions come from either Prizeman or other, more industrial figures. The boys are decked in now-trademark monastic white robes on the sleeve and, more disturbingly, appear on the back cover wearing identical white hoodies, black trousers and Cons, as if they’re on some kind of choral downtime. This, though invisible to the dedicated audience, is packaging to make a saleable whole. With better direction and handling (doing away with the robes would be the first thing to do), they would stand a chance of making an album of worthwhile artistry – this current model can only continue to tread water.
Of course, the point of Libera isn’t the quality of the albums they release; it’s the fact that they exist at all. Peace is not the vehicle to afford Libera a significant increase in either popularity or authenticity, but it is the one to be strategically released in time for Mother’s Day, bring a smile to said mothers’ faces and provide enough interest and money to last until the next one. They might do better in critical circles to steer away from the cult-ish robes, cringe-worthy photography and banal arrangements of standard repertoire, but it’s clear that if ever there was an ensemble that had no cares for what the critics thought about them, it’s Libera. --Daniel Ross
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