Costello: Il Sogno (CD review)

Michael Tilson Thomas, London Symphony Orchestra. DG B0003284-02.

The name “Elvis Costello” (born Declan Patrick MacManus) probably isn’t the first one that leaps into most people’s minds when they think of big-scale, classical orchestral works, but I suppose if Paul McCartney could do it, so could Costello. The Italian dance company Aterballetto asked the rocker in 2000 if he would compose an original ballet score for their production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Costello went for it, producing Il Sogno (“The Dream”). What we have on this recording is a revised concert version of the score conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Since Costello wrote the score for a ballet, the music is necessarily episodic, although with the help of Tilson Thomas, the composer was able to connect the various disparate elements together into something acceptably seamless. There is but one slightly jarring element, however. The first fifteen minutes or so are quite Romantic in mood and construction, harking back to pre-Stravinskian days. Then, out of the blue, the music takes on strong jazz inflections reminiscent of Gershwin. The jump is somewhat disconcerting.

Some listeners may think the whole enterprise adventurous; others will see it as awkward. Anyway, once we get past the transition, the music alternates between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in technique, with many of the melodies seeming to belong to a modern motion-picture soundtrack. Unless you’re a devoted Costello fan and have heard some of his non-rock compositions, the result is probably like nothing you might have expected from the man: laid-back, jazzy, and, as I say, Romantic. It passes a pleasant enough hour, especially under Tilson Thomas’s affectionate direction and with the LSO’s impeccable playing.

The sound the DG engineers derive from sessions with the LSO at Abbey Road Studios is agreeable as well. It will not win many audiophile awards because it lacks a real punch most of the time, yet it’s pleasingly smooth, with a wide stereo spread and a reasonably good amount of orchestral depth. Nothing to complain about.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa