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Valentino Dances
Music of Dominick Argento

Valentino Dances: Music of Dominick Argento

By Karl Lozier
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CD Number: RR-91CD


  The Dream of Valentino was the thirteenth opera written by Dominick Argento. He later extracted a series of his tangos from the opera's score and titled the new orchestral work Valentino Dances. It is dynamic, exhilarating and appealing and sometimes danceable. The orchestra is augmented by a particularly large percussion section, which is superbly recorded here. I question if any current 24-bit/96kHz recording can top this truly outstanding HDCD release; remember HDCD is 24 bit, but not quite 96 kHz. Reference Recordings has outdone themselves here! Audiophiles: order it immediately, don't get left out. The sections of this piece are very diverse. I know that all the dances are original by Argento but at about a minute and thirty seconds into the Dances the orchestra accompanied me almost perfectly as I hummed "What Ever Lola Wants", just those few bars and not "Lola Gets". The orchestra also has added harp, piano, E-flat alto saxophone, accordion and kitchen sink. Oops, not the sink just some other metallic percussion toy. Much of this was reorchestrated from the original opera. This recording is a personal favorite of Jan Mancuso, RR's publicity person, and as usual she's "right on". Want something a bit different and recorded with the most outstanding dynamic range I've heard in a long time? Here it is.

"Reverie, Reflections on a Hymn Tune". I don't know if I would have guessed (even from a multiple choice quiz) this title after my first listening sessions. Much of the movement sounds as if there is a huge celebration or celebrations being reflected upon. This work was commissioned to show off the virtuosity of a large modern orchestra before the Minnesota Orchestra made their European tour in 1998. Director Oue requested Argento to base the score on a pre-existent tune that would be familiar to Americans and Europeans. This he did, but it is not simply a theme and variations. Argento choose the hymn tune "Ellacombe". There is a logical musical progression here from doubt/dimness to acceptance/brightness. The sound quality is stunningly dynamic here, even surpassing RR's usual high standard, particularly in the treble range where it is of demonstration quality.

The selection, "Le Tombeau D'Edgar Poe" is basically Argento's attempt to give an overall view of Edgar Allen Poe's life. It was partly re-orchestrated from the score of the composer's opera, The Voyage of Edgar Allen Poe.

"Valse Triste" is a very short selection, peaceful in nature and having particularly beautifully recorded string sound. This can be called "a sad little waltz".

"A Ring of Time" has the same time interval as Vivaldi's famous "Four Seasons", an entire year containing four seasons. It starts with an "ethereal or other- world atmosphere" then shifts for a while to almost avante garde tendencies. Quite a bit of clock-like chiming is thrown in for good measure. At times I wondered if I might be hearing theme and variations but ultimately wound up a bit confused and simply sat back and enjoyed the music. Nothing atonal, but often seemingly fragmented, lacking some more expected continuity. It was probably there and simply escaped me.

NOTE: With unfamiliar music I like to listen to it at least twice before reading about it. I've put down my listening impressions. After reading the excellent liner notes, most of these compositions become much clearer to me and therefore far more interesting and satisfying. "A Ring of Time" is a particularly fine example. It has a subtitle "Preludes and Pageants for Orchestra and Bells" which goes a long way to explaining all those bells popping up both unexpectedly and at other times almost continually. Each of the three percussion players have and use chimes and other bell tones! Audiophiles, listen very closely! The written score is prefaced with a simple diagram indicating the positioning of the three percussionists at center rear and at opposite sides of the stage at stage right and stage left positions. Now go listen again and see if you can tell which one is playing when. Intermixed with the times or seasons of the year are the times of day. To read Mary Ann Feldman's liner notes is quite fascinating. The few things I've mentioned are only a part of logical interplays of thoughts and melodies woven into this fascinating work.

Initially my overall interest was only partially aroused, and even then mainly with the Valentino Dances. Reading the fine liner notes stimulated my interest in a "Ring of Time" capped off with repeated playing of it. All highly recommended to anyone willing to give something just a bit off mainstream an honest trial - you will be intellectually richly rewarded. The outstanding recording quality is audible "frosting on the cake" with absolutely unsurpassed reproduction of the extra large percussion section!












































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