Five Tudor Portraits: I Ballad:The Tunning Of Elinor Rumming
Five Tudor Portraits: II Intermezzo: Pretty Bess
Five Tudor Portraits: III Burlesca: Epitaph On John Jayberd Of Diss
Five Tudor Portraits: IV Romanza: Jane Scroop (Her Lament For Philip Sparrow)
Five Tudor Portraits: V Scherzo: Jolly Rutterkin
Five Variants Of 'Dives And Lazarus'
Here's some highly engaging and often naughty Tudor poetry that, when you can figure out what the poet (Skelton) is talking about, is sure to entertain you almost as much as Vaughan Williams' racy and raunchy musical setti... more »ngs. Actually, it's not all smut; there's a tender lament of one Jane Scroop for her dead sparrow, which ends with a half comical, half sorrowful curse on all felines! In sum, this work certainly ranks high in the composer's extensive choral production, and it's a wonder that it's not better known. Richard Hickox is a born choral conductor. He secures excellent diction, pitch, and rhythm from his singers, while at the same time ensuring a vivid orchestral response. Music worth knowing. --David Hurwitz« less
Here's some highly engaging and often naughty Tudor poetry that, when you can figure out what the poet (Skelton) is talking about, is sure to entertain you almost as much as Vaughan Williams' racy and raunchy musical settings. Actually, it's not all smut; there's a tender lament of one Jane Scroop for her dead sparrow, which ends with a half comical, half sorrowful curse on all felines! In sum, this work certainly ranks high in the composer's extensive choral production, and it's a wonder that it's not better known. Richard Hickox is a born choral conductor. He secures excellent diction, pitch, and rhythm from his singers, while at the same time ensuring a vivid orchestral response. Music worth knowing. --David Hurwitz
Why isn't this work better known?
Ahmed E. Ismail | Cambridge, MA United States | 08/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Perhaps the main reason why RVW's "Five Tudor Portraits" hasn't had a greater reception concerns the structure of the work itself. The third and fourth movements divide the chorus--the third movement is for men's voices (tenors and basses only), while the fourth movement is for women's voices (sopranos and altos, with alto solo). However, the fourth movement is roughly six times as long. This makes the work rather unattractive to amateur choruses--and therefore prevents this work from being more widely known.However, that doesn't mean the music isn't worth hearing. The opening Ballad is a brilliant exercise in choral bravura and comic hijinks, with Jean Rigby getting the slight tipsiness VW wrote into the solo part just right. The Intermezzo and Burlesca complement each other well--the tenderness of the former balancing quite nicely with the robust celebration of the latter.The Romanza is clearly the center of the work--it accounts for half the work's playing time, and certainly has the most beautiful orchestration of all. It's one of the few times where a women's chorus would be wrecked by the inclusion of parts for tenor and bass. Hickox's performance is slightly faster than Devan Watton's, which makes a marked difference--the performance seems more ethereal and weightless--which surely must be what VW had in mind. There is also a brilliant cello solo by Tim Hugh complementing the mood of the chorus at the beginning and end of the movement.The finale quickly brings the work to a close in high spirits, with spectacular timpani and trumpets, and the ever-timeless-sounding John Shirley-Quirk (he sounds only slightly different today than in recordings from the 1960's and 1970's!).Rounded off with a fine recording of "Dives and Lazarus," this is a wonderful addition to the collection of any fan of British music."
VW's Shakespearian Choral Suite
D. A Wend | Buffalo Grove, IL USA | 09/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Five Tudor Portraits was composed in 1935 by Ralph Vaughan Williams to poems by John Skelton (1460 - 1529) who was tutor to the young Henry VIII. Skelton wrote a variety of poems but here the focus is on his satiric and playful verses. The music is scored for chorus, baritone and contralto (or mezzo, as with this recording) with a large orchestra. The first portrait - Ballad: The Tunning of Elinor Rumming - is a long racy poem concerning an alehouse run by Elinor. As the subject suggests this is a boisterous piece with dance-like melodies and makes good use of the percussion. The second portrait is the lyrical My Pretty Bess, where the baritone has a magnificent part accompanied by the chorus. Next is Burlesca: Epitaph on John Jaybeard of Diss, which commemorates a dislikable character and is scored for male chorus. The text mixes Latin and English and is quite raucous in performance.
The longest portrait is the fourth - Jane Scroop (Her Lament for Philip Sparrow). The subject was a pet sparrow that has been killed and eaten by a cat. The tone is very subdued and mournful, a tender portrait of the grief of the little girl. The contralto sings accompanied by the chorus and the orchestration is for strings and woodwinds. The final portrait is "Jolly Rutterkin" and is an exuberant scherzo and is a magnificent picture of a vagabond.
The other work on this disc is the Five Variants of `Dives and Lazarus' based on a folk-carol where Lazarus is begging food from Dives. This music dates from 1938 and is Vaughan Williams at his best. The writing is somewhat reminiscent of the Tallis Fantasia.
This is a wonderful recording by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra. The soloists, Jean Rigby and John Shirley-Quirk are perfect in conveying the colors and emotions of the text. "
Best of the lot
Michael | Wisconsin, USA | 07/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The best recording of this work that I know. I first became aware of it from the ancient mono live performance by the Pittsburgh SO conducted by Steinberg, a performance that deserves revival on a historical label. It still contains the best "Drunken Alice" in the "Tunning of Elinor Rumming," making a very creditable union of vocal values with some falling-down-drunk hiccups.
Hickcox in the Chandos version brings out the enormous contrapuntal complexities in this first movement, and makes a serious case for the "Lament for Philip Sparrow" as RVW's greatest single movement. He's uncannily grasped the enormous range of the emotional and thematic issues this piece traverses. The poignant despair of the a pre-teens lament for her dead pet; her rage at the whole race of "cattes" for the one cat who killed him; the comico-serious invocation of the latin mass for the dead to accompany the funeral procession of animals following the body to the grave (compare Mahler's similar but quite different invocation in the 3rd mvt. of his 1st Symphony); and finally--the emotional and thematic fulcrum of the whole piece, the young lady's dawning awareness of human life as something ultimately tragic, as she passes from childhood into adolescence. Am I being maudlin here? If so, VW manages the emotional mix with level of sophistication that I know no parallel of in western music.
Another mock obsequy of a completely different emotional quality is the grinning mockery that greets the passing of the wholly unlovable John Jayberd of Diss. There are similar moments in VW's "Pilgrim's Progress," where VW's sardonic side is in evidence (the greatest example is probably in the Sixth Symphony and its sneering saxophone).
The baritone gets short shrift in this work, though the portrait of metrosexual Jolly Rutterkin makes a stunning return to human joy, laughter, and life at the conclusion.
All-in-all very fine version of what over the years has become for me perhaps the composer's greatest work."
Medieval Poetry, Romantic Music
Brett A. Kniess | Madison, WI | 10/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Five Tudor Portraits, texts by medieval poet John Skelton, are five character pieces set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Some are rather ribald while others dwell on the sentimental side.
For example, the first portrait of Elinor Rumming, a bar mistress, tells of Elinor, her spirits, and all the characters which frequent her tavern (including drunken Alice, wonderfully portrayed by Jean Rigby). Quite the opposite, a song of unrequited love follows with John Shirley-Quirk singing of Pretty Bess. Third is John Jaybird of Diss, a grumpy man who passed away and nobody cares. Vaughan Williams does a quasi-Carmina Burana patter song in latin with mens chorus to give this portrait its medieval flair. The fourth and longest portrait is a lament for a pet sparrow. Here is where Vaughan Williams is at his best. It almost seems that the music and text have always been together. The singers' mood over the loss of her pet goes from disbelief, to blame, to eventual acceptance, all of which the music depicts. Add in chant from the Dies Irae and Libera Me sequence, and you have an intelligent, not tongue-in-cheek, but sincere protrayal of the death over a beloved pet. The fifth portrait ends the entire work as a scherzo, ending the work on an upbeat note. This work was hitherto unknown to me; it is plainly a lot of fun, along with a lush romantic scoring by Vaughan Williams.
As a bonus, Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus is included. Scored for multi-divisi strings and harps. The modal folk tune the work is based upon is haunting, and the thick orchestration evokes that character well. Vaughan Williams is obviously at home with setting folk music, and here it is done effectively and creatively.
This recording is a great success with only a quibble or two. The orchestra speaks well, although it overshadows the harps a bit in "Dives". The soloists in "Portraits" are outstanding, especially in creating sympathetic and believable characters. I wish the chorus were miked a little closer; in parts throughout, the 1st portrait especially, the chorus is recorded as an orchestral texture instead of an entity whose text needs to be transferred. The somewhat resonant hall adds a little to that problem. That put aside, this is a hidden gem in the rough. Great choral/orchestral music, not to mention a whole lot of fun. Hands down a must buy."