Pomona dates from 1927 when Constant Lambert was 22. Serge Diaghilev had asked him, the first British composer to write for the Ballet Russe, for Romeo and Juliet and it was Nijinsky's sister (who had choreographed Romeo) who commissioned Pomona. The ballet is based in mythology and concerns Pomona, the goddess of fruit, and her pursuit by the god Vertumnus. Pomona at first repulses Vertumnus but he returns first as an old woman to comfort the goddess and then as himself when the two fall in love. Pomona is in one act (with 8 movements) and is a light and lyrical work that is beautifully orchestrated. It was influenced by the neoclassicism movement of the times and the ballet is scored for only 34 instruments. Pomona is the music with which Lambert "arrived" on the musical scene.
The story of Tiresias is quite unusual for a ballet but the idea occupied Constant Lambert for around 20 years. Tiresias was selected by Zeus and Hera to settle a bet as to if women or men received more pleasure from sex. One day, Tiresias separated two copulating snakes and found himself turned into a woman. Years later, Tiresias finds another pair of copulating snakes and changes back into a man. Zeus and Hera appear before him and ask Tiresias to settle their question. He answers that women have more pleasure whereupon Hera strikes Tiresias blind and in compensation Zeus gives him the gift of prophecy. The ballet was commissioned in 1950 and is in three acts. The score is remarkable in that there are no violins or violas and emphasis is given to percussion and a prominent piano part. The music is different from the lyrical melodies of Pomona and Romeo and Juliet and is close to Les Six. The ballet had only 8 performances and was coolly received. Constant Lambert had pushed himself to complete the score in tine for its 1951 performances and died two days before his 46th birthday from overwork, undiagnosed diabetes and too much drinking, and perhaps from sorrow over the critical reception of Tiresias. The ballet continued to be performed at Covent Garden in the early 1950s but was then forgotten until revived in the 1980s.
For me, Lambert's score is a marvel of freshness and innovation. Much of the score has a ritualistic quality to the music and the orchestration is beautifully accomplished with breathtaking melodies. Both ballets are beautifully performed by the English Northern Philharmonia under David Lloyd-Jones and is another remarkable disc in their Lambert series of recordings.