Notes and Editorial Reviews
It is one of those interesting coincidences of musical history that Vaughan Williams's Five Tudor Portraits, set to often bawdy texts of Skelton (after a prompting from Elgar) in 1934-5 should be contemporary with Orff's Carinina burana (1936). Of course, the imagery of Skelton's lyrics is not so lustfully explicit as Orff's medieval texts, but their frankness caused something of a sensation at the first performance. But sexual extravagance is hardly Vaughan Williams's metier and one must not look here for a comparable work—the bawdiness is muted and the performance too seeks to place the music in the composer's mainstream. There is vigour and enthusiasm from the chorus, but neither they nor the soloist entirely let their hair down. Yet the score has much marvellous detail, for instance the orchestral bird calls in the delightful funeral scene for the burial of Jane Scroop's sparrow.
The Benedicite is an inspired concise choral setting with a fine solo contribution from Heather Harper and the lovely Dives and Lazarus Variations needs no recommendation from me—the composer writing for strings and harps in a wonderfully heartwarming, easeful way. The Jacques Orchestra play beautifully and are very well recorded. In the choral works the digital remastering has brought an improvement in focus and added sparkle to the Portraits, although the bass is lightened and the bloom of London's Kingsway Hall acoustics is less obvious than in the more opulent sounding original.
-- Gramophone [9/1987]
reviewing the original CD release of these recordings, EMI 91263