ARGENTO:  Valentino Dances.  Reverie, Reflections on a Hymn Tune.  Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe. Valse Triste.  A Ring of Time
Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue, cond.



Born in Pennsylvania in 1927, Dominick Argento earned degrees from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and the Eastman School of Music where he received his doctorate. He has taught for more than four decades and has been recognized and lauded for his orchestral, choral, vocal, and chamber music as well as music for the theatre.  His operas include Casanova's Homecoming, The Aspern Papers, The Voyage of Edgar  Poe and The Dream of Valentino, the last  two  represented by orchestral suites on this new CD..  

His  long association with the Minneapolis (formerly Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra, has resulted in four works commissioned by the orchestra. In 1997 he was named composer laureate of the orchestra, the first time such an honor was bestowed on an American composer by an orchestra or musical organization.  

Every work on this new CD receives its premiere recording. Reference Recordings' promotion states that much of this music is perfect for public radio FM broadcasting —and they are right. The ten-minute suite from the opera The Dream of Valentino features tangos—all written by Argento—with scoring that includes  a big percussion section, tastefully used, plus the reedy sounds of an accordion. It's all very pleasant, indeed.  Reverie, Reflections on a Hymn Tune was written for a 1998 European tour of the Orchestra, and is based on the hymn tune Ellacombe which dates from the mid-18th century. Argento said of this music he "meditates on the text and the tune, contemplates it....reflects on it".  At one point the hymn is sung by a chorus although nowhere in the notes is one led to expect this, nor are the singers identified.  Members of the orchestra perhaps?

One of Argento's most popular operas is The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe written for the American Bicentennial, using the famous poem Annabel Lee. In the sixteen-minute orchestral suite (commissioned by the Baltimore Symphony), an off-stage tenor voice (sung on this recording by Chad Shelton), sings the opening lines of the poem and later sings of the death of Poe's child-bride Virginia,and his lament as he prepares to join her in death. The suite depicts the poet's youthful innocence, love for Virginia, dark fantasies, and impending death.

The major work on the CD is A Ring of Time, also commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra, for the 1972-73 season. It is concerned with the passage of time, seasons of the year and the times of day, from dawn to midnight. Scored for large orchestra, it features lots of percussion with three players playing chimes and other bell tones with specific spatial requirements outlined in the score—well met by the recording team. The four sections are Spring ("Holiday Parade"),  Summer ("A Wedding Procession"), Fall  ("War March"),and Winter ("Funeral Procession"), symbolizing youth, love, struggle and death.  Each of these "pageants" is preceded by a short prelude (Dawn, Noon, Twilight and Midnight) and the suite ends softly with a postlude for strings and harp.

Performances are authoritative and committed.  From a sonic standpoint, this is one of RR's best achievements in Minnesota.  Recommended.

R.E.B. (March 2000)