Classical CD Reviews
MIKE OLDFIELD: Music of the Spheres – Lang Lang, piano/Hayley Westenra, lead vocals/ Sinfonia Sfera Orchestra/Karl Jenkins – Decca
Published on March 19, 2008
It feels a bit odd to be listing the latest release from the creator of Tubular Bells in our Classical section, but the Decca Label Group put it in that category and Oldfield does play a classical guitar in the work. And after all, a number of pop composers have ventured into classical territory recently: Paul McCartney and Billy Joel among them. Actually, I was hoping to list this in our Hi-Res section since the SACD and DVD-A surround mixes of Oldfield’s Tubular Bells were so much fun, but it’s been issued as only a standard stereo CD because Oldfield no longer seems to like surround sound reproduction – he has said in an interview it seems unnatural and he feels like he must turn around to face the sounds behind him. Well, from an artist who created so many exciting SQ and 5.1 recordings, and even had a complete quadraphonic studio, that’s quite a surprise. Especially befuddling since one of the initial reactions to this album I noticed referred to its “open quality – that of space and movement.” Sounds made to order for surround!
Oldfield has carried multitracking in his albums way beyond the original invention of Les Paul, but he did play all the various instruments himself. He has also tried to expand musical horizons and mix various folk, pop, rock, and electronic elements. This time – after almost four decades – he bravely ventures into the concert music genre with a massive mostly instrumental work which he created using a computer program known as Logic, and then gave it over to classical composer/conductor Karl Jenkins to orchestrate for performance by a full symphony. (It turns out the two had worked together in 1975 when BBC-TV broadcast a live performance of Tubular Bells and Jenkins played oboe on it.) However, this wasn’t all recorded at once in the Abbey Road studio – a great deal of mixing occurred, and pianist Lang Lang sent in his piano passages over the Net using iChat.
The influence of Jenkins is particularly strong when a women’s chorus makes brief appearances, singing what seem to be wordless sounds with a sharp sort of nasal Eastern European timbre similar to Jenkins Adiemus albums. There are also sections featuring Lang Lang that sound almost like a piano concerto, as well as other passages bringing Oldfield’s classical guitar to the fore. There is a portion that will definitely remind the listener of Tubular Bells. A minimalist flavor is apparent, but also more lavish Late-Romantic symphonic scoring such as might be heard from Vaughan Williams or Holst.
Oldfield has based this work on the ancient idea that every celestial body has an inner music – derived from the movements of the planets and stars – that is inaudible to the human ear. Music of the Spheres is his interpretation of what would be heard if these sounds could be accessed. The work reminded me of some of the orchestral suites which were composed in the earlier days of hi-fi expressly to provide a wide variety of sounds and effects to show off electronics and speakers; however Music of the Spheres is less clunky and flows more smoothly thru its length. I found it most enjoyable and evidence that Oldfield is not just repeating himself.
1. “Harbinger” – 4:08
2. “Animus” – 3:09
3. “Silhouette” – 3:19
4. “Shabda” – 4:00
5. “The Tempest” – 5:48
6. “Harbinger (reprise)” – 1:30
7. “On My Heart” – 2:27 (Featuring Hayley Westenra)
1. “Aurora” – 3:42
2. “Prophecy” – 2:54
3. “On My Heart (reprise)” – 1:16 (Featuring Hayley Westenra)
4. “Harmonia Mundi” – 3:46
5. “The Other Side” – 1:28
6. “Empyrean” – 1:37
7. “Musica Universalis” – 6:24
– John Sunier