Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Valentino Dances - suite from the opera (1994)
Reverie, Reflections on a Hymn (1998)
Le Tombeau d'Edgar Poe - suite from the opera The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe (1976)
Valse Triste (1996)
A Ring of Time (1972)
Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue
rec 19 Feb and 28 Sept 1999, Minneapolis

I have known Argento's name for many years but have not, until now, heard anything of his.

Valentino Dances is a luxuriant orchestral mélange in which the worlds of the Tango, Rosenkavalier, Samuel Barber and Elgar meet. There are prominent roles for the saxophone and a waspishly seductive accordion. The treatment is comparable with the popular songs and dances in the works of Peter Maxwell Davies (PMD certainly has a way with the foxtrot!) although the 'casing' is more honeyedly romanticised.

In Reverie, the hymn (distantly sung part way through the piece) referred to in the title is Ellacombe, a favourite of Argento's. Again romanticism (try 7.40) is in the ascendant but this time in collision with a Bach-like grandeur. If you can imagine the solo piano part in Finzi's Grand Fantasia and Fugue gothically orchestrated you will have an approximation of the sound.

The Poe suite is from twenty years previously and the expression is more languidly Bergian (a little like Franz Schmidt's strings in the Fourth Symphony) than the Reverie or the Valentino piece. It is far from rebarbative but does not surrender to the melodic harvest as readily as his later works. Chad Shelton (tenor) sings (offstage) various verses from Poe's 'Annabel Lee' and these divide or provide a series of pivots for this mournful and storming nightmare suite. It is drawn from an opera written for Bicentennial year, 1976.

The Valse Triste is a gentle cousin to Sibelius's own piece of the same title. Do I hear a hint of 'Happy Birthday' in the music as well as a touch of Elgar's Salut d'Amour?

A Ring of Time is the longest piece in this collection. It is also the earliest - commissioned for the orchestra's 70th birthday and conducted in that season by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski. It was written in Florence where church bells must have inspired the bell-carilloned score. The full orchestra is joined by three percussionists each with her or his own chime of bells in addition to their usual percussive complement. The first two seasons: Spring and Summer seemed very similar to me. Fall is jaggedly dynamic - evocative of leaf-chilling gusts and the old 'Apple Tree Shaker' beloved of Thomas Hardy with his grimly cheery tumbril. There is a touch of Malcolm Arnold at 3.10. Winter is bitterly crooned and recalls William Alwyn's Fifth Symphony in cahoots with Mahler's Adagietto or Silvestrov's Fifth Symphony. So ends what amounts to a condensed version of the 'Seven Ages of Man'.

Literate notes by Mary Ann Feldman provide you with as much background as you are likely to need.

The recording is exemplary - open and alive to the richness of Argento's writing.

I do urge you to hear this music.

Rob Barnett

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