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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Handel in the Wind
Suite from the Messiah [39:03]
Individual tracks listed at end of review
Rinaldo: Lascia ch’io pianga [2:58]
Trio Sonata in F, Op.2/4, HWV389 [11:32]
The Harmonious Blacksmith Variations [3:51]
Concerto Grosso Op.3/2: Largo [2:36]
Keyboard Suite in g minor: Passacaglia [2:58]
Zadok the Red Priest [6:01]
Encore (from Priest on the Run): Trio Sonata Op.2/1: Aria Amorosa [2:57]
Red Priest (Piers Adam (recorders), Julia Bishop (violin), Angela East (cello), David Wright (harpsichord))
rec. Birley Centre, Eastbourne College, UK, May 2014. DDD
RED PRIEST RP012 [71:59]

You probably know by now whether you love or hate what Red Priest do to baroque music.† They match the Goon Show for zaniness, with dressing up to match in the pictures in the booklet.† Having reviewed their recordings before, I’m definitely a fan:

• RP004: Pirates of the Baroquereview
• RP005: Baroque Cello Illuminationsreviewed with RP004
• RP006: Bach Cello Suites – review.† I had a few criticisms of this but I greatly enjoyed its successor –
• RP007: Johann I’m only dancingreview

Jonathan Woolf reviewed RP001, Priest on the Run, RP002; Nightmare in Venice, RP003 Vivaldi and Corelli and RP004 Pirates of the Baroque.† Johan van Veen and Jonathan Woolf reviewed performances by Piers Adam of Handel Sonatas and Vivaldi Concertos on RP008.

For RP009, The English Nightingale see review by Jonathan Woolf.† For RP010, Shine and Shade, see review by Jonathan Woolf and review by John France and for RP011, Recorder Bravura, review by Jonathan Woolf.† Those releases were 2013 reissues of earlier recordings, so I’m pleased to welcome the new CD after such a long interval.

Jazz musicians and the Swingle Singers realised long ago that it took only a little syncopation to make Bach swing and that’s what Red Priest did on Johann I’m only dancing.† Handel has not been subjected to the treatment so often, but it works very well on the present CD, with a few interpolations from Red Priest’s eponymous composer Vivaldi.

The first track of the Messiah Suite, the Overture, gets the swinging treatment but the second track, Comfort Ye, is left almost alone except that it becomes a Vivaldi recorder concerto with a few appropriate decorations.† Ev’ry Valley on the next track also receives the recorder concerto treatment at the kind of breakneck speed that we have come to associate with some Italian ensembles in Vivaldi and with Red Priest.† Shepherds and Angels is a set of improvisations on There were shepherds.

That should be enough to give you an idea of what to expect and it’s enough to give a purist apoplexy.† All such persons should steer clear, except that what follows on track 5 interpolates the opening of Handel’s Ode for Queen Anne, Eternal source of light divine, a sublime piece which receives a truly loving performance here.† If anything it’s almost too loving in much the same way that Albrecht Mayer nearly loves to death the oboe and orchestra transcription of Verdi prati (DG 4765681 – review).

Most of this works well if you’re not a purist, though I thought that the extended treatment of The people that walked in darkness on tracks 6-8 went on too long.† That’s soon forgotten with the joyful The trumpet (recorder) shall sound on track 9.† The trumpet becomes a trombone (Posaune) in the German equivalent of St. Paul’s words, so why not a recorder?

Lascia ch’io panga (tr.16) receives much the same treatment as the Queen Anne Ode, or as Albrecht Mayer gave this aria on his Handel album mentioned above, except that at 2:58 the Red Priest treatment is less over-emotive: Mayer takes 4:04 and sentiment comes close to sentimentality.

When Red Priest play (almost) seriously they can compete with the very best.† The Trio Sonata Op.2/4, actually scored for their combination of instruments, is the longest work here after the Messiah Suite.† The Brook Street Band offer probably the liveliest completely straight performances of these sonatas (Avie AV2282).† We don’t seem to have reviewed that CD, though we have reviewed other recordings of Handel by this group.† I enjoyed hearing them: they are actually slightly faster than Red Priest in most movements, though there’s very little in it.† If anything Red Priest may be trying a little too hard at times to offer a straight performance of this work: it’s left pretty well alone – but the second movement vivace is a shade livelier than on Avie without being overdone.† The Brook Street Band is actually three seconds faster, but it sounds like the other way round.

Red Priest do give a bit of a lift to the finale and they take a few liberties with the music in the process, including a signing-off cheeky raspberry.† After hearing them, the very distinguished recording from the London Handel Players on Somm SOMM084, though actually slightly faster, sounds rather staid.† The Harmonious Blacksmith on the following track, too, sounds happier at his work than any performance of the keyboard original that I’ve ever heard, even ending up with a Scottish dance.

The largo from Concerto Grosso Op.3/2, on the other hand, left me feeling rather flat, especially as the end of that movement is meaningless without the next movement which follows naturally, but the conflation of Coronation Anthem, Queen of Sheba and what have you, billed as Zadok the Red Priest , cheered me up again.

Serious Handelians will hate this record but the rest of us can enjoy it.† The notes question whether Handel would have liked it: I think he would – mostly.† With bright, forward recording to match the playing, it’s well worth adding to any Red Priest collection.† If you are not yet a convert, it would be as good a place as any to start.† You hardly expect or need scholarly notes with such a recording, but they do explain the raison d’Ítre behind the undertaking, albeit in a small font, hard to read in white on a coloured background. ††As with Johann I’m only dancing a review can only tell you so much: if you can’t sample, just buy this combination of adept and fast music-making and zaniness, preferably using the MusicWeb International purchase button.

Brian Wilson

The Messiah Suite: individual tracks:

Overture [2:25]
Comfort Ye [2:48]
Ev’ry Valley [1:13]
Shepherds and Angels [3:35]
Eternal Source of Light [3:32]
The Jaws of Darkness [2:06]
Lost with Blindness [4:02]
Jaws Returns (link) [0:13]
The Recorder Shall Sound [2:09]
Despised and Rejected [4:53]
Siciliano Pedicuro [3:00]
The Raging Nations [1:15]
Breaking the Bonds [1:32]
The Potter’s Vessel [1:38]
Hallelujah [4:39]

 

 




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