El Greco

a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou

This 1998 album expands the original 'Tribute To El Greco' (released semi-privately in Athens in 1995) to a full-length CD by adding three tracks (Movements III, V and VII) to the original ones, which have not been tampered with for this international release, only reordered slightly. The lavishly packaged 1995 release was limited to 3000 signed copies and officially obtainable only through the National Gallery museum in Athens which used the money thus generated to help acquire an El Greco painting (called 'Saint Peter') for its collection, although various copies have been bought by determined fans through different channels. I've always found the reasoning behind this restricted release a bit suspect - if you really want to generate a sizeable sum of money then why not create a great album and make it an international (or certainly internationally obtainable) release, perhaps upping the price a bit to account for its charity purpose. Anyway, a great album it was so this re-release has been much welcomed by fans unable to get hold of the original. The project shows Vangelis at his most inspired by the almost exclusively religious paintings from Domenikos Theotokopoulos (to give El Greco his full name) and his general artistic outlook. This becomes apparent from a rare personal note by Vangelis in the booklet, which is basically the mystic statement that, in order to be a truly creative artist, one must be true to one's own nature and thus to Cosmic nature in general, as they are identical. The music's flavour is very Byzantine, using Greek orthodox harmonies, church-bells, choir-sounds and more. It's got a faint religious touch and is both austere and rich at the same time - austere because of the generally sparse orchestration, rich because of its deeply felt emotions. One of Vangelis' main musical strengths, which is the use of rubato (the slight quickening up or slowing down of the tempo of the music to create those subtle effects), is very much in evidence throughout. Two singers from the classical world also make a contribution - a great aria by Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe accompanied on piano and on another track tenor Konstantinos Paliatsaras. The album's promotion (what little there has been) occurred mainly through classical channels and although it's hard to think of a classical composer creating music equivalent in nature to 'El Greco' still anyone who likes classical music (for instance Wagner - similar use of rubato, or perhaps Eastern European religious music) will in all probability like this music as well.

Review by Ivar de Vries