Notes and Editorial Reviews
Composed in 2000 and premiered that same year in Italy, Il Sogno is a ballet version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Elvis Costello wrote the music and did his own orchestrations, and he has come up with a lively and enjoyable score that supports his bid to be taken seriously as a composer of more than just popular songs, however accomplished many of those certainly are. To be sure the suite of movements presented here, totaling about an hour of music spread over 24 tracks, contains few ideas longer than those that Costello is used to writing, but what matters more than that is that fact that he has responded sensitively to the choreographic demands made on him, and in the process
fashioned a very appealing and fresh sounding stand-alone work. It may still seem a touch lengthy for the amount of material spread over it, but then the same holds true for Stravinsky's Firebird, and I can easily imagine a 20-30 minute selection of excerpts achieving deserved success as a concert item.
Costello colorfully delineates the three major groups of characters through corresponding musical archetypes. The aristocrats receive suitably pompous (but not too serious) treatment, the "rude mechanicals" have march music and simple folk melodies, while the fairies play jazz (John Harle shows up to assist on saxophone). There also are prominent parts for such unusual instruments as vibraphone and cimbalom. These give the music an alternately dreamy and archaic character that's quite appropriate to the story and also helps create a unified musical atmosphere linking the various numbers. What matters most, however, is that Costello integrates these disparate elements very well into the overall flow of the work. It never sounds like a random collection of irreconcilable styles and ideas. The more extended sections, such as The State of Affairs, The Identity Parade, The Spark of Love, and The Wedding, have plenty of variety and contrast, while the melodic invention throughout really is gratifyingly memorable. Puck 1, Hermia and Lysander, and The Face of Bottom, for example, all feature good tunes, expertly arranged.
Michael Tilson Thomas leads the London Symphony Orchestra in a brilliant performance (recorded back in 2002) that presumably gives the composer all that he wants. Certainly there's absolutely nothing to complain about in terms of interpretation or playing, and the sound, from Abbey Road Studios, is similarly beyond cavil. The packaging is amusing: a "fabulous '50s" Deutsche Grammophon logo and label (as if to say "Yes, this really is classical music!") next to a somewhat dazed-looking photo of Mr. Costello himself. Someone should tell him that it's okay to relax. He may not have completely solved the problem of filling an hour with music of absolutely consistent interest, but the ballet medium does not really ask him to. What he has done is write an excellent and imaginative dance piece, giving us a very promising "classical music" debut that deserves to be treated with respect and listened to with pleasure. [9/27/2004]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Il Sogno by Elvis Costello
Peter Erskine (Percussion),
John Harle (Saxophone),
Chris Laurence (Double Bass)
Michael Tilson Thomas
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 04/2002
Venue: EMI Abbey Road Studio 1, London, England
Length: 61 Minutes 56 Secs.
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