Vangelis: Nocturne (CD review)

The Piano Album. Vangelis. Decca B0029594-02.

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"
  9. "Intermezzo"
10. "To a Friend"
11. "La Petite Fille de la Mer" (from "L'Apocalypse des animaux")
12. "Longing"
13. "Chariots of Fire" (from "Chariots of Fire")
14. "Unfulfilled Desire"
15. "Lonesome"
16. "1492: Conquest of Paradise" (from "1492: Conquest of Paradise")
17. "Pour Melia"

Vangelis
As you no doubt know, a nocturne is a piece of music appropriate to the night or evening, usually a romantic character piece for piano, with an expressive, dreamy, or pensive melody. That's probably why Vangelis opens with a work called "Nocturnal Promenade," which, I assume, means a nighttime stroll, in this case evoking a starry night and a leisurely walk. It tends to rather meander along with no definite goal in mind, sort of a like work by Frederick Delius, maybe "Summer Night on the River," but without the Delius charm. The sudden appearance of strings in Vangelis's music calls up, perhaps, images of clouds or breezes, I dunno. It's tranquil enough, for sure.

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.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


1 comment:

  1. Vangelis has always been a true artist. He does what he does from inspiration. Knowing that, everything else follows, and as a fan thats all I want. Do I really care if something is a "masterpiece" or not? Not really. I'm happy to listen to a real artist. The man is a genius.

    ReplyDelete

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa