Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits; Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’

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COMPOSERS: Vaughan Williams
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Five Tudor Portraits; Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’
PERFORMER: Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)LSO & Chorus/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9593
The Five Tudor Portraits (1936) were contemporary with Orff’s Carmina burana, and both works offer a lively response to earthy texts. Vaughan Williams’s setting of John Skelton responds vividly to the range of the poet’s imageries; and alongside the sometimes bawdy, earthy rhythms can be found music of great lyricism and tenderness. Given these contrasts, the quasi-symphonic construction takes on an extra importance, and

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it is in this respect that Hickox is particularly successful, aided by his virtuoso orchestral and vocal forces and by two excellent soloists.

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There is direct competition with the performances directed by David Willcocks, recorded by EMI nearly 30 years ago, and now available on a reissue which also contains another splendid work, the Benedicite. That disc has pleasing, digitally remastered sound, more rich-toned than the Chandos recording provides for Hickox, who gains the advantage of clarity, but at the expense of some warmth. These concerns apply in both the Tudor Portraits and the Five Variants of ‘Dives and Lazarus’, one of the best examples of Vaughan Williams’s creative response to folk material. The refinement of the LSO string playing under Hickox is magnificent, and the subtle textures of the scoring are beautifully captured. Terry Barfoot