RED PRIEST PLAYS SWASHBUCKLING
TROPICAL BAROQUE PROGRAM
By Lawrence Budmen
Antonio Vivaldi (1676-1741) was the father and the "Red Priest" of Baroque music. Like many composers of the Baroque era Vivaldi adapted and arranged the scores of other composers as well as using his own thematic material in multiple works. The British group Red Priest - named to honor Vivaldi - saluted this Baroque creative tradition with a program of music by "Pirates of the Baroque" on March 10 at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church in Coral Gables - presented by the Miami Bach Society's Tropical Baroque Music Festival.
The members of Red Priest are world class musicians and great entertainers. Violinist Julia Bishop is a mainstay of such renowned original instrument ensembles as the English Consort and the Gabrieli Consort. Harpsichordist Howard Beach has been continuo player with William Christie's Les Arts Florissants and the London Mozart Players. Cellist Angela East is the founder of the period instrument band The Revolutionary Drawing Room. Piers Adams is simply one of the world's reigning recorder virtuosos and Red Priest's artistic heart and soul. With their flamboyant costumes and energetic stage demeanor the Red Priest musicians have brought some of the adventurous spirit of Baroque composers and performing artists to the contemporary concert scene.
Red Priest's own pirated arrangements included a scintillating version of the familiar "Christmas" Concerto Grosso in G Minor, Opus 6, No.8 by Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). The combination of strings, recorder, and continuo and the high spirited playing of Red Priest made the Allegro really dance. The concluding Pastorale was turned into a veritable hornpipe in Piers Adams's rollicking performance. Julia Bishop's dazzling violinistic prowess was put to the test in Georg Phillip Telemann's Fantasia for Solo Violin while the entire group turned Bach's often played Preludio (from the solo violin "Partita in E Major," BWV 1006) into an invigorating display of pyrotechnical dash that owed as much to Niccolo Paganini as to Bach.
Angela East's aristocratic cello was ideally suited to the "Pieces Fantistiques" by Francois Couperin (1668-1733). It is doubtful that the composer would have recognized this version of his original harpsichord work. Four unrelated works were transcribed into a cello suite by Paul Bazelaire (teacher of the great French cellist Paul Tortelier). Ms. East has freely adapted the Bazelaire arrangements. Her eloquent phrasing and the distinctive sound of her Baroque cello were striking in the Prelude. Her energetic traversal of the La Tromba and Air de Diable movements was the very essence of stylish, vivacious music making. The Red Priest re-composition of the Chaconne by Tommaso Vitali (1665-1717) was a pure delight. The ever changing harmonic palette literally glowed in the subtle blend of four instruments (with Adams playing numerous recorders).
Piers Adams did a brilliant solo recorder turn on a set of variations by one Jacob Van Eyck (1590-1657). Telemann's "Gypsy" Sonata in A Minor was a charming mélange of Gypsy tunes that the composer had pirated on his travels. A gorgeous Aria Amoroso by Handel may well have been borrowed from the Baroque opera composer Reinhard Keiser. (Handel had been a member of Keiser's orchestra.) A 17th century "Budro"- "Pirate Dance" was all rambunctious high spirits. The Red Priest band gave an appropriately uninhibited performance (which perfectly complemented their pirate make-up). These players are real showmen.
What would a Red Priest concert be without music by Vivaldi? Julia Bishop's bravura violin tossed off the "Concerto in D Minor" (from "L'Estro Armonico"), RV 565 with dare devil spirit. Adams's recorder and Beach's harpsichord continuo were utterly delightful. Even better was the Red Priest adaptation of the "The Sea Storm" ("La Tempesta di Mare") - originally the Flute Concerto in G Major, RV 433 - with Adams performing on two recorders at once and the entire group playing at a breathtaking clip in the final Presto (capped by a concluding pirate yelp).What brilliant virtuosity! As an encore Bishop played the slow movement of the Winter Concerto from "The Four Seasons" to a Caribbean beat from her colleagues. It was absolutely enchanting.
The music world needs more groups like Red Priest. These musicians give terrific performances that remove the dust of decades of stodgy orthodoxy. The Tropical Baroque Festival could not have hoped for a more festive evening. A true celebration of the Baroque spirit!