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Vangelis - Mythodea CD (album) cover




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2.68 | 63 ratings

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4 stars I'm not sure what a musicologist would make of this ambitious stab at orchestral composition by Greek keyboard wizard Vangelis, but to this pair of ears (conditioned to classical music from a young age, and never mind how long ago that was) it sounds entirely convincing.

Fans of his early synth-rock workouts ("Heaven and Hell", "Albedo 0.39", "Spiral") will likely be divided in their judgment. Unlike the hybrid classical-rock experiments of the 1970s this is legitimate symphonic music, performed by Vangelis alongside the London Metropolitan Orchestra and National Opera of Greece Choir, and far enough removed from the world of rock 'n' roll to be sold on the Sony Classical label (Rick Wakeman, eat your heart out).

The piece was commissioned as some sort of official soundtrack to the 2001 NASA Mars Odyssey mission (although it isn't acknowledged anywhere on NASA's website for the ongoing Odyssey program). But in truth the music was inspired as much by the ancient myths of Vangelis' homeland, in a conscious attempt to connect the NASA mission to the fabled Odyssey of Homer: hence all the classical imagery on the CD cover, of the Temple of Zeus in Athens and so forth.

As you might expect from an Oscar© winning composer the music is very cinematic, in an epic, widescreen sort of way. The oceanic ebb and flow of orchestra and chorus is sometimes very powerful, often quite beautiful, and never less than impressive. It's pure Vangelis, but you can hear the influence of Carl Orff (I'm thinking of the grandiose fanfares and operatic oratory of the "Carmina Burana"), and of course Gustav Holst ("Op. 32, The Planets": the opening and closing movements here borrow heavily from the rhythmic march of "Mars: the Bringer of War"). And at least one of the many duets between sopranos Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman recalls the celebrated aria "Viens, Mallika" (the Flower Duet) from the Léo Delibes opera "Lakmé".

It's a little more difficult to pinpoint exactly the electronic keyboards played by Vangelis himself. His various synthesizers are deeply integrated into the larger orchestral fabric, and because he's mostly using a string setting his contributions are even harder to separate from the symphonic whole.

The lack of any space-rock clichés might be unexpected, considering the corporate underwriting by NASA. But altogether this is a refreshing work of rare maturity from an artist looking for new worlds to conquer, and discriminating Progheads (even more than fans of conventional classical music) should be well-equipped to give it the appreciation it deserves.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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