Nightmare in Venice
is full of all the high jinks and spirit that one has come to associate with Red Priest. It opens with Vivaldi’s Concerto in G minor La Notte
– an evocation of Venice at night, performed with the usual Red Priest tricks - extreme characterisation, jagged sawing chords, coarse recorder sounds, manic paces in the prestos, intentional wobbling of intonation to create a ghostly, unnerving effect, exaggeration of dissonances and the use of disturbing harmonics.
is followed by the English Fantasy Suite
– a collection of works for the theatre by Robert Johnson and Nicholas Le Strange in the masque tradition. This includes a beautifully played Satyrs’ Masque
and screeching and cackling witches in the Witches’ Dance
, with hisses added to the screechings and scratchings of the cello.
Further drama arrives with the inclusion of a series of dances extracted from Purcell’s Fairy Queen
- here entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream Suite
. Although some of the arrangements are rather good, others twist poor old Purcell to the extreme - weird pizzicatos and piping recorder - and the Fairy Dance
bears little resemblance to the Fairy Queen
as we know it.
Other composers featured include Giovanni Paulo Cima and Dario Castello – an Italian baroque composer who wrote in the Stylus Phantasticus; the music’s natural strangeness here exaggerated to the extreme by Red Priest. Then there’s Jean Marie Leclair, who combined the elegance of the French baroque with the inventiveness and weirdness of the Italian style, as demonstrated in the Demon Suite
The final work on the disc – Fantasia on ‘La Folia’
is, indeed, a true nightmare – I thought I was going mad when I heard a snatch from Elgar’s cello concerto four minutes in! It is a set of variations by Red Priest on Corelli’s La Folia
. It includes a Moorish or Arabian-sounding variation, in which the recorder does a brilliant and deeply convincing imitation of a ney or similar instrument. There’s also one which recalls the Characters with Long Ears
movement from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals
with donkey-like braying, a virtuosic harpsichord variation; and one in the style of Stephane Grappelli.
As with all Red Priest discs, this features some very virtuosic playing and a tremendous amount of invention - not to mention liberty-taking! Yet it is probably something you’d only want to listen to on very rare occasions!
review by Jonathan Woolf