John Harbison: Ulysses CD review
Four out of five stars
John Harbison’s Ulysses has been a long delayed release, but, anxiously awaited, it was composed in 1983 and is also the inaugural release from the new music recording label BMOP/sound. Indeed it is a wonderful first CD by the new label.
Thematically well thought out, and structured, it is based on the classic Greek mythology tale. A theme that is obviously not in vogue, but, one that the composer creates some wonderful new music to accompany. A poignant and personal look at Ulysses’s journey by John Harbison. As the composer indicates, it was conceived as a ballet score, but, he is not sure it will ever be produced as a ballet. In fact it would be a challenge to choreograph some portions of the music. But it certainly makes a complete and fulfilling musical program! It is very pleasing to the ear, a claim which not all modern concert music can lay claim to.
The piece tells the epic tale with a full range of colors using a complete palette of sounds and emotions. Character development through the use the musical motives is very well presented. It is full of nuance and subtlety, paired with dramatic, emphatic, and rousing moments to reflect the various events in the tale.
Well placed dramatic highlights and effects, punctuated with energy and victory are carried forward with a motion that is appropriately paced. There are large sections were ballet movements would be very well served. The sound is often bright and focused while using embellished instrumentation to represent the full gamut of emotions need for the story. At times the intricate themes present the lonely and forlorn reflecting the characters place in the journey. Like good story telling the music is varied in emotion, tone, pace and color. Overall it is lyrical, accessible and very understandable.
The music works wonderfully especially if you know and understand this epic tale. This work is unique, engaging, dramatic, and enjoyable, a CD you will not grow tired of soon.
Overall the CD is a pleasurable journey through ancient mythology, well produced and packaged. The recording quality is very high and well balanced. It contains very useful and insightful notes. The accompanying text and presentation is clear and understandable. The artwork is relevant and supportive of the contents. The art is also attractive, fresh and captivating. A complete and well developed package, a topnotch product by BMOP/sound and Gil Rose. I am happy to own and recommend this CD.
Kudos to Gil Rose and BMOP/sound for recording and producing this inaugural CD. With this CD, they start to fulfill their mission of presenting and capturing contemporary music.
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