Vaughan William’s vividly entertaining Five Tudor Portraits come alive under Richard Hickox’s highly sympathetic direction.
Having successfully tackled Elizabethan England, Vaughan Williams found a related stimulus in the energy and bawdiness of the late medieval poet John Skelton.
Opening with the "Ballad: The Tunning of Elinor Rumming", we find Skelton in racy mode, describing an alehouse run by Elinor. We are introduced to the assorted, colourful characters who visit the pub, most of them poor and of all them thirsty for the "nappy ale". "My Pretty Bess" follows, a tender poem drawing exquisitely lyrical music from Vaughan Williams. Male chorus and orchestra then bring us "Burlesca - Epitaph on John Jaybeard of Diss", describing a cantankerous, dislikeable clerk whose death no-one mourns. The following movement, quoting the "Dies Irae", tells of Jane Scroop’s lament for the death of Philip, her pet sparrow (eaten by Gib, the cat). In the final, exuberant portrait, "Jolly Rutterkin", trumpets call above horns and lower strings, before the chorus enters with a high-spirited "Hoyda, hoyda".
The Five Variants of ’Dives and Lazarus’, with their rich string writing, antiphonal effects and mellow colouring, recall the composer’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Vaughan Williams commented: "These variants are not exact replicas of traditional tunes but rather the reminiscences of various versions in my own collection and those of others."