Red Priest http://redpriest.zooglelabs.com , comprising Piers Adams (recorders), Julia Bishop (violin), Angela East (cello) and David Wright (harpsichord) is probably the only early music group in the world to have been described by critics as ‘visionary and heretical’, ‘outrageous yet compulsive’, ‘wholly irreverent and highly enlightened’, ‘completely wild and deeply imaginative’, with a ‘red-hot wicked sense of humour’ and a ‘break-all-rules, rock-chamber concert approach to early music.
If you like your entertainment to include the upmost in virtuosity combined with energy and humour then do try to hear this ensemble live. If you can’t then a new release from Red Priest Recordings www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/red-priest.html entitled Handel in the Wind will give you a good idea of what to expect. I should point out to those not familiar with Red Priest that some purists may not be best pleased by these arrangements of much loved works. Nevertheless Red Priest bring great virtuosity and terrific musicianship to these arrangements.
Red Priest begin their new disc with their own Suite from Handel’s The Messiah with the Overture receiving a syncopated opening before it races off with some of the most spectacularly virtuosic playing you are likely to hear from all these fine musicians, always full of fun yet thoroughly musical. Comfort ye opens with violin, cello and harpsichord before the recorder of Piers Adams enters. Even birdsong is included, before bringing the main theme which continues to be interspersed by trills as well as quieter passage for strings and harpsichord with Adams finding some fine textures from his instruments.
Equally spectacular is Ev’ry valley, vibrant and full of the most virtuosic passages and decorations with terrific ensemble between these players. Shepherds & Angels, taking the music from Handel’s Pastoral Symphony (Pifa), rises up from a low recorder with an almost Arabic flavour before Handel’s theme appears. There are sudden changes of tempi with Adams changing recorder for And lo the angel of the Lord came upon them with the other players taking the theme. There is even a quote from Jesus Christ Superstar making this occasionally more a case of variations around Messiah.
Eternal Source of Light takes the music for A man of sorrows with a mellow recorder theme picked up by the cello with harpsichord accompaniment providing some exquisitely beautiful playing. The Jaws of Darkness actually threatens to bring the theme from Jaws before the cello bounces a dramatic rhythm with the others joining before slowing with some fine blends of sound in a lovely Handelian melody.
Lost with blindness is a remarkable variation on Handel’s The people that have walked in darkness with lighter, faster moments before being subjected to jazz variations. Jaws Returns forms a link with a short flourish from the soprano recorder to lead into The Recorder Shall Sound, Red Priest’s take on The trumpet shall sound bringing some phenomenal soprano recorder playing from Piers Adams with no less fine accompaniment from Julia Bishop, Angela East and David Wright. Adams’ articulation is breathtaking.
Despised & Rejected, an arrangement of A man of sorrows brings fine interplay between recorder and harpsichord before all these players weave the melody before leading to a fast and furious section. The music for the comically titled Siciliano Pedicuro is taken from Handel’s How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and allows the cello and harpsichord to open solemnly before the violin joins showing just how fine these players are in this rather more conventional arrangement.
Piers Adams returns for a furious The Raging Nations (Why do the Nations so furiously rage) with more spectacularly fine playing from all and leading straight into
Breaking the Bonds (Let us break their bonds asunder) where each member of this terrific ensemble shows an equally fine virtuosity. The Potter’s Vessel (Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron) brings staccato phrases that slowly lead on to some fast and furious playing. What can I say about Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus given a jazz rhythm and some spectacularly humorous moments where one can’t help but laugh along with the players. Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright side of Life appears as this over the top arrangement goes through some crazy variations, including a Hungarian Dance and the tune Happy Birthday. You really have to hear it to believe it.
Throughout this suite one can hear all of Handel’s melodies revealed through a variety of sensitive, virtuosic and often wild arrangements.
Next on this disc we then come to some more conventional Handel arrangements though not without their moments.
With Handel’s Lascia ch'io Pianga from Renaldo cello and harpsichord lead forward in a slow pace before the violin joins to weave a lovely melody. The Larghetto from Handel’s Trio Sonata in F major Op. 2 no.4 rises beautifully with Piers Adams’ recorder shining over these fine players, exquisitely done showing that behind all the showmanship these are first rate musicians of the highest calibre. The Vivace again highlights the tremendous virtuosity of these players whilst the Adagio brings some very fine, though unexpected flourishes, exquisitely done. The Alla breve is full of joy as it moves quickly ahead with a terrific conclusion before the
Allegro with an exaggerated rhythmic opening and some unexpected flourishes and interruptions of flow. Unconventional but very musical.
Red Priest’s arrangement of Handel’s The Harmonious Blacksmith Variations from his Keyboard Suite in E will delight and surprise in equal measure with these players giving the music a terrific lift. There are fine textures and the most lovely recorder phrases, speeding as the piece progresses with a hornpipe and vocal contribution before the terrific coda.
There is a mellow flowing Largo from Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op.3 no.2 out of which the violin rises, beautifully done whereas Handel’s Passacaglia from his Keyboard Suite in G minor has pizzicato strings and tapping of instruments before this piece develops with harpsichord joining, the strings weaving the melody as the recorder joins. A very fine arrangement brilliantly played that races to the coda in spectacular fashion.
Strings and harpsichord weave a lovely lead up to the main tune of Zadok the Red Priest based, of course, on Handel’s Zadok the Priest. The recorder takes the theme over the opening sounds of the strings before the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s Solomon races away in this great set of variations.
As an encore Red Priest include Handel’s Aria Amorosa from Trio Sonata Op.2 No.1 previously released on their Priests on the Run album. This is a pure delight as the pizzicato cello, beautifully mellow recorder and violin take the lovely melody underlined by the harpsichord.
Such is the feeling of spontaneity and enjoyment of these performances they have the feel of a live performance. The recording is first class and there are useful booklet notes.
If you wish to get to one of Red Priest’s concerts then click on the link http://redpriest.bandzoogle.com/#/tour-dates to see where they are next appearing.