Red Priest are no ordinary baroque ensemble
and they don’t do ordinary recitals. So anyone coming across
this disc hoping for a sedate stroll through baroque chamber music
will get something of a shock. This disc is a re-issue, on the
group’s own label, of a disc that originally appeared in 1999.
As now packaged, with a cover illustrated by rather lurid coloured
graphics, you would never mistake this for something ordinary.
The group have given a new nickname ‘Priest on
the Run’ to one of Vivaldi’s concertos and used this as an excuse
for a highly coloured narrative about Vivaldi’s final days in
Venice. This narrative provides the excuse for the music on the
disc, as if we needed a reason. There are no programme notes per
se, just a rather strange monologue that purports to be Vivaldi
thinking over the places where he could flee to from Venice. So
we start in Spain before moving over to England and then Hamburg.
The group’s performance style is as highly coloured
as their disc. Not for them the sedate, well behaved chamber music
that the works on the disc would imply. Instead they bring a rather
‘bad boy’ rock sort of attitude to their performances. Performers
improvise within - and without - the structure of the music, new
harmonies are created and references made to music which the original
composers would never have known. All use every expressive device
possible, with much pitch bending, over articulation and rhythmic
The results are hardly true to the original composer’s
intention, but have a certain joie de vivre which may appeal.
Occasionally they go much further than this. The Telemann Sonata
has all sorts of anachronistic gypsy effects which may delight
or may (as in my case) rather annoy.
But not all is over-excited get up and go. For
the two English pieces, we enter a period of repose with Purcell’s
Two in one upon a ground and a movement from a Handel Trio
This disc will not appeal to everyone. Frankly
I think that they try far too hard to be new and different. There
is even a suspicion of a rather adolescent desire to shock. But
for those people for whom Baroque chamber music is something to
be viewed with suspicion, this disc might be a winner.
See also review
by Jonathan Woolf