Libera – The Christmas Album

Joy to the World; Still, still, still; Carol of the Bells; Veni, veni Emmanuel; Once in Royal David’s City; O Holy Night; White Christmas; Corpus Christi Carol; In Dulci Jubilo; Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Sing the Story; Coventry Carol; The First Nowell; Jubilate Deo; While Shepherds Watched their Flocks; Lullabye
Libera/Robert Prizeman
rec. mix: The Music Place, London, May-July 2011. stereo/DDD
EMI CLASSICS 50999 0 88635 2 2 [61:19]
I would be very surprised if this was not one of Classic FM’s most-played Christmas discs of the season – a glossy, highly manicured CD with popular appeal, complete with photos of little angelic boys in white hoodies, in a curiously contemporary take on cherubim and seraphim.
It is performed by boys’ choir, Libera with sundry instruments - flute, oboe, clarinet, recorder, violin, cello, percussion, piano and (it says it all) keyboard - directed by Robert Prizeman. Joy to the World opens the disc with lashings of icing sugar and sparkly silver baubles liberally strewn all over the score. It includes other such favourites as Once in Royal David’s City, the Coventry Carol and First Nowell. The carols have been arranged by Robert Prizeman, again in popular style. Some were new to me, such as Leontovych’s Carol of the Bells, with its hints of film music and careful use of devices to manipulate listener emotions.
The style of the boys’ singing is very breathy, and the sound - the disc is “recorded and mixed” - heavily manufactured, with solos brought to the fore in an artificial-sounding manner. The boys’ intonation is generally impressive, although their diction and enunciation occasionally leaves something to be desired.
The spirit of commercial Christmas may be here, the spirituality and reflection of a religious festival are not – thus the meaning of the sacred carols is lost amidst the glitter. An example: the supremely beautiful In Dulci Jubilo is reduced here, with its simplistic bass line, to something akin to the theme tune of a children’s television show. A carol’s message is again distorted in Veni, veni Emmanuel, when the boys sing the word “gaude” in an affected mystical and melancholic haze, floating the word out mysteriously.
The disc is as sweet - harsh critics may say as sickly - as the manufacturers, arranger, designers and producers can make it – pure treacle. If you like your Christmas complete with fairies, glitter, inflatable snowmen and gold-leafed angels, this is the disc for you.

Em Marshall-Luck
If you like your Christmas complete with fairies, glitter, inflatable snowmen and gold-leafed angels, this is the disc for you.