After the introduction of the Moog synthesizer in the mid 1960's, several musicians were responsible for its rise in popularity. Chief among these people were Wendy Carlos, Tomita, and Vangelis. Each of them scored notable successes, but it may have been Vangelis who garnered the most attention thanks to his soundtrack music for the movies "Chariots of Fire" (1981) and "Blade Runner" (1982). Since the 60's he has been quite active with film and TV music, public appearances, and record albums. This latest of his recordings is called "Nocturne: The Piano Album."
Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou (b. 1943), better known by his professional name, Vangelis, is a Greek composer of, according to Wikipedia, "electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, and orchestral music." I suppose the present album falls into the "ambient" category for lack of any other description.
But here's the thing: It's called, as I say, "The Piano Album." Inside the accompanying booklet there's even a picture of Vangelis sitting behind what appears to be a grand piano. So far, so good. Then we take a quick listen, and the piano doesn't quite sound like a piano. It appears to sound artificial somehow. A moment later, we hear what appear to be strings coming from left field. Strings? There is no mention anywhere in the album about a string section. Finally, it dawns on the listener that Vangelis is probably not playing a conventional grand piano but a synthetic piano, bringing in synthetic strings to augment the synthetic piano notes. So why didn't the booklet tell us this? Well, to be fair, the booklet notes don't tell us much of anything except to provide a track listing and a few acknowledgments of people who helped create the album. So, you take what you get.
The program contains original Vangelis compositions, some of them new, some of them old. Here's a track listing:
1. "Nocturnal Promenade"
2. "To the Unknown Man" (from "Spiral")
3. "Movement 9, Mythodea" (from "Mythodea")
4. "Moonlight Reflections"
5. "Through the Night Mist"
6. "Early Years"
7. "Love Theme, Blade Runner" (from "Blade Runner")
8. "Sweet Nostalgia"
10. "To a Friend"
11. "La Petite Fille de la Mer" (from "L'Apocalypse des animaux")
13. "Chariots of Fire" (from "Chariots of Fire")
14. "Unfulfilled Desire"
16. "1492: Conquest of Paradise" (from "1492: Conquest of Paradise")
17. "Pour Melia"
I have never been a big fan of electronic music, so I found Vangelis's pared-down, simplified piano versions of his music more refreshing than his big, elaborate, overblown extravaganzas. Whether this is still an electronic piano or not is beside the point. The tunes are clean and clear, with minimum accompaniment beyond that which he produces himself.
For reasons unexplained, track three, "Movement 9, Mythodea," is performed by guest pianist Irina Valentinova. It sounds at first like an entirely different instrument from the one Vangelis plays and more like a conventional piano. But then the string accompaniment kicks in, and it begins sounding more like the rest of the program.
"Intermezzo" sounds for all the world like something by Elgar, all big strings, quiet pomp, and regal ceremony. There's no piano at all, which is a welcome break, to be sure. "Chariots of Fire" and "1492" remain the best numbers on the disc, despite their more romantic, dreamy moods here. The program ending in a lullaby seems appropriate.
Anyway, taken as a whole, the "Nocturne" album seems a little hit-and-miss, a little disjointed; beyond the vague "nocturne" theme and the general tranquillity of the music, it hasn't a central focus to hold it together. It's more like a New Age greatest hits collection, a "best of Vangelis" sort of thing, with less showy versions of some of his most popular melodies, plus a few newer ones. It's certainly not unpleasant, but it's hardly groundbreaking, either.
Producer Vangelis and engineer Philippe Colonna recorded the album in 2018 under licence to Decca Records. For maximum definition, the engineer miked the piano fairly close, yet it doesn't spread out too far across the speakers so it still sounds natural (if synthetic) enough. The synthetic strings, however, tend to air out all over the place. Whatever, we hear clean delineation, wide dynamics, and strong impact, which is about all you could want from the disc. It sounds like a good studio album in a pop style.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: