Angels Sing --- Libera in America

 

Angels Sing --- Libera in America boys' choir concert. Recorded live in August 2014 at The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC. Singers are Marc Alvares, Shay Balsekar, Henry Barrington, Anthony Blake, Ciaran Bradbury-Hickey, Tiarnan Branson, Gabriel Collins, Kavana Crossley, Thomas Delgado-Little, Ben Fairman, Daniel Fontannaz, Alex Gula, Matthew Jansen, Timothy Lee, Sam Leggett, Isaac London, Matthew Madine, Eoghan McCarthy, Alessandro Mackinnon-Botti, Michael Menezes, Alex Montoro, Sammy Moriarty, Jakub Niedermaier-Reed, Rocco Tesei, Cassius O'Connell-White, Matthew Rangel-Alvares, Bertramo Smart, Camden Stewart, Sam Wiggin, and Lucas Wood. Robert Prizeman directed and conducted the Libera choir and a chamber orchestra assembled for this event. Music produced and mixed by Sam Coates, Ian Tiley, and Robert Prizeman. There is also a short feature about the choir and the trip to America. Produced by Daniel Hart, John Rexroad, and Steven Philipp. There is no credit for the video on the keepcase or in the keepcase booklet. There are no subtitles for the music or for short comments made by the boys during the performance. The music was recorded using 48kHz/24-bit sound sampling. Released 2015, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Grade: D+

Libera is a famous boys' chorus based in South London. Typically much of their music is sung in Latin. For their trip to America in 2014, most of the music was arranged to be sung in English. Here is the 55 minute main program exactly as described in the keepcase booklet:

  1. Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee
  2. How can I keep from singing
  3. Morning has broken
  4. America the beautiful
  5. Wayfaring stranger
  6. Amazing grace
  7. What a wonderful world
  8. The Prayer
  9. Be still my soul
  10. How great thou art
  11. Rest in peace
  12. Sanctus
  13. Song of life

Extra Features:

  1. Ave Maria
  2. Voca me
  3. How shall I sing that majesty

Libera has been remarkably popular in England for many years, and they have made about 25 albums of music. Here's a comment to me about them from a reliable American expert:

I had never heard of this group, but just listened to their rendition of Ode to Joy.  From what I heard, these boys have the same, finely trained choral tone and technique as any of the best English boy choirs.  I can see why they are gaining appeal.  They are taking a fine, traditional boys choir from England and giving them more popular arrangements (and other effects, i.e. lighting, staging, etc.) to broaden their appeal.  I would much prefer to hear them sing the British choral standards in a cathedral with organ.  However, marketing them this way almost guarantees a broader audience and in the end, might even open up some people’s ears to the conventional boy choir.  So I’m all for it! 

 

I personally think the singing and music recording on this record is terrific, and I enjoyed the easily accessible arrangements by Robert Prizeman, the Libera leader. So I'll not be critical of the music or the singing on this title.

The Libera in America concert was published in DVD, Blu-ray, and in a CD. I suspect the Libera management folks are spreading themselves a bit thin in this regard as I was quite surprised by problems I see in the  Blu-ray picture quality and video content. Time for screenshots.

Here's the opening scene. This is live before a big audience in a huge cathedral. The orchestra is split into two sections wide apart. To get all this in a single view, the camera has to be far back, and the choir looks rather insignificant. This is a situation where we need 4K resolution to get a decent shot!

In the next next two shots the cameras are as close as possible while showing all the singers. In the first picture the resolution is disturbing soft. And I think the second picture was made with a SD camera, which is unacceptable in 2014:

Now cameras get closer in attempts to frame all the boys from the side. But as you can see in the next two shots, the images are still soft:

So is this a standard definition DVD spiffed out in Blu-ray livery? Well, suddenly we get some full-face shots that look to me like they were made with HD cameras:

Nobody gets printed credit for this video on the keepcase or the enclosed booklet. I think the producers tried to save money by hiring relatively inexperienced folks to provide and operate the cameras. They probably didn't have the latest and greatest kit, and I suspect (as noted above) there may have been a couple of SD cameras mixed in with the newer gear. Since the results with views of all the singers are so weak, the editor turns to near shots and close-ups. For example, here's a view of 5 boys, all pleasant if still a tad soft:

And here's 2 boys in a grainy and out-of-focus view:

Lack of depth of field-of-focus is also a constant problem in this video. Below 2 examples:

One of the characteristics of a Libera performance is to move the boys around the stage in various formations that will impress the live audience. But this can spread the boys out in positions that can't be easily handled by the camera crews. Below are two examples of this problem:

H'm. Spread out and out-of-focus:

Here's a nice shot of the impressive audience:

But how did this shot get by the editor?

With so many people watching just 30 boys in this vast place, the producers decided go all out with special effects including stage smoke and brilliant lights shining from behind the boys in the direction of the audience. Now the camera crews get more hazards to contend with. It's tough to make a video with smoke cutting down on ambient light at the same time brilliant spotlights are shining almost directly at your apertures:

Now some red floodlight disasters for the cameras (which thankfully don't last long):

Followed by blue floodlight calamities that do last too long:

This all looks like a battle scene from a science fiction movie. Rest assured no boys were harmed. The special effects just overwhelmed the camera controls:

And it's hard to get good images with shadows everywhere in this later scene with the bright lights extinguished:

In this image at the end of the concert, special lighting cast moving partial shadows over everyone. This may have looked impressive to the live audience, but it results in the some of the worst video images on the disc:

The TV director kept trying to weave in shots of the orchestra. But no camera was in position to do this well:

But there were 5 or more decent shots of the flute player. Was she playing a bunch of wonderful solos? Well, no. But she was located on the outer end of the front row right next to a camera. Love the one you're with:

To be fair, this video is probably not as bad as I make it seem. And I maybe could have come up with enough pretty shots to make this film look like the greatest thing since Gone with the Wind. But the mission of this website is to promote good video as an adjunct to enjoying the fine arts. The state of the art now is pretty good, and this video falls way short of that. I also note that this is a short and rather lightweight program. The package is further cheapened by not having any subtitles for the song lyrics or the spoken comments by the boys as part of the show. Finally, there is a bonus extra ("Behind the Scenes") which is so bad it degrades the package. So if you would like to try the Libera Angels, I suggest you get the CD. The DVD would probably be as good as the Blu-ray for most people who would like to see the boys and the cathedral. But if you are the picky sort who likes a proper Blu-ray video, I'll grade this title as a "D+", which means in our grading system, "Don't buy this unless you have a good special reason."