Record of the Day: Mike Oldfield, "Hergest Ridge"

Record of the Day: Mike Oldfield, “Hergest Ridge”

Mike Oldfield
Hergest Ridge (CD Virgin MIKECD 2)

Typical exponent of the progressive movement, the multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield had suddenly found himself thrown to the top of the world charts thanks to a rather mediocre but enormously impactful album, “Tubular Bells”, considered at the time a “symphonic” masterpiece by critics who must not have been very familiar with symphonic music, more than anything else impressed by the undoubted skill with which Oldfield had sewn a patchwork (not to say a jumble) of fragments with very little connection to each other in which minimal ideas emerged influenced by the first Philip Glass, folk reminiscences, rocky glimpses, evocative melodies with a Celtic flavor and so on, all for about forty minutes which also fascinated the director William Friedkin who included part of it in the soundtrack of the famous film “The Exorcist”.

Oldfield’s desolate constructive naïveté was compensated by his instrumental skill and the ability to arrange the different sections of the work rather well, despite occasionally falling into abysses of unstoppable kitsch; the millions of copies sold by the album pushed Oldfield to propose the same folk/rock/classical pattern in many subsequent albums.

“Hergest Ridge”, released in 1974, represents the happy exception in a catalog sadly the same. Of course, here too the “structure” of “Tubular Bells” is repeated verbatim but the result is much more coherent and better formally organised. The folk-inspired melodies do not lapse into the postcard image, the instrumentation is less redundant (except for an unbearable passage for choir and bells) and Oldfield no longer needs to demonstrate
knowing how to play all the instruments by stacking timbres at random.

The mixture of colors ranging from the portative organ to the electric guitars, from the celesta to the English horn (passing through the fascinating voice of sister Sally) demonstrates an imagination that unfortunately has been burned in the repetition of clichés linked to success.

“Hergest Ridge” is one of the most English records you can listen to, whose pastoral atmospheres resonate with figures of classical authors such as Elgar or Vaughan Williams; each note bears the words “Made in Great Britain” and is particularly suitable if you look out the window and see a sky harbinger of bad weather.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.