Soil Festivities

a look at the music of Vangelis Papathanassiou

A real jewel in the crown of his oeuvre, this album highlights Vangelis' ability to create a unique sound world for a single musical project. This time it involves that period of the year, sort of fresh early spring, when all of a sudden new life crops up everywhere, the start of a new cycle of life and death, hence the album-title. Vangelis manages to get across this feeling of "the miracle of nature" really well and presents a very direct close-up view of the (microscopic) natural world. Accordingly, it's almost completely devoid of the human factor, his usual nostalgia isn't really apparent here and no voices are used. This unlike for instance the sometimes rather mystical leanings of New Age or the late Romantic composers like Mahler who very much viewed nature as being linked to man's inner state. It's also unlike the music Vangelis did for the Rossif nature documentaries, where the human factor comes into the commentary and way of presenting the images, making for a different atmosphere musically.
To achieve the maximum effect of freshness Vangelis uses some rather exotic harmonies, creative percussion and jumpy melody-lines. Also notice the rare use of double bass plucking sounds. The long first movement is set to a brisk walking tempo and is sometimes accompanied by rain-effects. On top of this Vangelis lets loose his improvisational skills to probably indicate the many forms of life springing into existence. The second movement has more of a tune-like quality and could be meant as the musical image of a plant growing beautifully but then withering away. This is the most tranquil piece of the lot, in contrast to the next three which are darker in atmosphere. The third movement shows the violent side of nature with moments of despair alternating with ones of glory, indicating the struggle to survive, whilst the fourth is more contemplative and a bit gloomy, perhaps indicating slowed-down nightlife activity. The best is saved for last: a wonderfully loose piece in which Vangelis again shows his skill at improvisation, going through many moods and tempos before setting up an emotional conclusion to this feast of life.

Review by Ivar de Vries