a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou

In hindsight, 'Mask' is an album that had been a long time in coming. Glimpses of its unique atmosphere can be found as far back as in the choral parts of 'Heaven & Hell', in the austerity of 'Odes' and even in some of the more restless music of 'Antarctica'. Apparently, it started life as a ballet-score and features the unaccredited English Chamber Choir contributing plenty of strong choral parts using made-up words. Because of its compelling "Sturm und Drang" nature, it is a relatively untypical Vangelis album, as his music usually makes the sage-like impression of somebody having been through it all and achieved a sort of serenity. But not so on this occasion, because Vangelis really digs deep here and unleashes some torrential and indeed restless music upon us listeners. It can at first appear to be forbiddingly stark or bombastic even, but there are some unexpected lighter moments as well. There are many (Greek orthodox) religious overtones in the work and it obviously meant a lot to Vangelis, who selected a few portions of it for his 1991 Rotterdam concert - strangely enough, as it was probably lost on much of its audience. However, it did of course provide an opportunity for the huge choir participating, at least in practice, as the concert itself was mostly a playback affair. The first Movement sets the tone with swirling sequencers, heavy percussion-patterns and complex choral parts in the outer sections. Its beautiful middle section features a Bach-like solo-aria for contralto accompanied by Vangelis' characteristic string sound, perhaps slightly marred by its seemingly sampled nature and electronic enhancement, making it sound a bit unnatural. Movement II provides a moment of structure before another highly dramatic piece takes over, the slower third Movement where several times the music momentarily tries to escape its own abyss. Movement IV is most unusual, featuring a Gregorian chant-like dialogue between baritone and choir set to a seemingly straightforward but subtle instrumental background. After another "Sturm und Drang" piece which like the first one loosens up in the middle, the final Movement at last achieves relative serenity, ending the album on an emotional high after the desperation that went before. The expression of this facet of Vangelis' musical personality didn't end with 'Mask', in his later oratorios 'Antigone' and 'Mythodea' the same type of choral music was used.

Review by Ivar de Vries