“Angels Sing – Libera in America” – Review
It’s absolutely stunning — assuming, of course, you’re a fan of angelic, sonorous harmonies, perfectly blended voices, and spiritual anthems echoing with weightless rapture in one of the most acoustically (and visually) glorious cathedrals in the world: the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
The DVD features songs ranging from traditional masterpieces like Henry van Dyke’s “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” and beloved hymns (“Be Still My Soul,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace”) to 20th century standards (“What A Wonderful World”) and patriotic classics (“America The Beautiful”).
My personal favorites are “How Can I Keep From Singing” and “How Great Thou Art.”
“How Can I Keep From Singing,” written by American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry in 1868, has that haunting minor melancholy, the ghost of Irish hymnody that carried over into many American tunes in the 1700s and 1800s.
The latter, “How Great Thou Art,” one of the most beloved hymns in America that became popularized in our country from its use in Billy Graham Crusades, finds a jaw-dropping realization in Libera’s interpretation.
It begins with a pedal note — a single sustained low note that hangs imposingly below the opening melody of the famous hymn. With no other voices adding harmony, the lone pedal note below the single line of melody creates a vague minor tonality. It adds a tremendous tension of anticipation to the hymn — as if you were sitting in a lonely valley waiting for the sun to dawn from behind a mountain. It gives it something akin to the “sublime” in Romanticism — a looming, intimidating beauty as awe-inspiring and ominous as a mountain peak that towers over you and makes you feel very small. How this is accomplished using boys’ voices is a testament to the power of music theory and acoustics.
And then the other voices come in, and that ominous, glorious tonality expands into a churning progression of minor and major chords mixing as quickly and subtly as sand shifting beneath the ocean’s powerful tide.
The word “powerful” is really the summation of it. There’s tremendous power in this interpretation — possibly more than any version of “How Great Thou Art” that I’ve ever heard.
No wonder these kids are world famous.
Want to see Libera in-person? They’re coming to a venue near you in the coming weeks!
Boston, MA – The Wilbur Theatre – April 1 at 7:30pm | TICKETS
Washington, DC – Warner Theatre – April 2 at 8:00pm | TICKETS
San Antonio, TX – Tobin Center – April 4 at 7:30pm | TICKETS
Chicago, IL – Arcada Theatre – April 8 at 7:30pm | TICKETS
Atlanta, GA – Woodruff Center – April 10, 2015 at 7:30pm | TICKETS
Libera performs for the Pope during the Concert of Hope at Yankee Stadium in New York in 2008: