Perfomance: FIVE STARS
Sound: FIVE STARS
John Harbison’s Ulysses ballet is undoubtedly one of his most colourful, accessible works, and a far cry from the cool convolutions of his Great Gatsby opera. Fragments of the ballet floated around the concert world during the 1980s, but the first complete performances and recording did not occur until the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Music Director Gil Rose undertook this truly heroic task in 2003.
This scrupulously prepared yet heartfelt performance perfectly captures the glittering surface as well as the close-knit texture of this 80-minute work. Many of the ballet’s recurring ideas carry a Stravinskyan harmonic and rhythmic tinge, but the sinulously expressive melodies are Harbison’s own, as are the surprising characterisations; the Sirens seduce with a wailing saxaphone, Nausicaa and friends toss the beach ball to a wistful waltz, Circe enchants with ondes martenot and metallic percussion. Now that we have a recording, may we finally see one of the 20th century’s major ballets on stage?