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Review of Il Sogno
Daily Telegraph, 2004-10-02
Paul Gent

Il Sogno

The Daily Telegraph
by Paul Gent
2 October 2004

Elvis Costello: Il Sogno
London Symphony Orchestra, cond Michael Tilson Thomas
Deutsche Grammophon, pounds 12.99

In tackling A Midsummer Night's Dream as a subject for composition, pop star Elvis Costello is following in the footsteps of Mendelssohn, Weber and Britten. No pressure, then. In the event, he pulls it off impressively. Il Sogno, a ballet score first performed by the Italian company Aterballetto in 2000, is no mere dabbling on his part: the former punk has a history of "classical" composition going back to The Juliet Letters of 1992. And, unlike Paul McCartney, his closest rival in the pop-turned-classical stakes, he has taught himself to read and write music, enabling him to create this, his first full orchestral score, without the help of an arranger. The result owes a great deal to Ravel and Gershwin, but Costello has a way with melody all his own, as well as an ear for unusual sonorities, relished here by the LSO. Above all, the piece is fun.

Costello could have produced a dry academic exercise to prove his classical credentials; instead he has written a piece that, without sounding remotely like his pop songs, nevertheless has something of their coiled energy and offbeat humour.