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February 2004

Red Priest - Vivaldi: The Four Seasons

Brethren, allow me to introduce our guest lecturers for this day, Red Priest, who are here to enchant us with their latest sermon. No, they will not be exhorting us on the wages of sin, the heavenly calling, or God’s love. Instead the epistle they have chosen to expound upon is an entirely different, but no less hoary, subject -- Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons . But be ye not wary of giving your undivided attention to the subject at hand, for verily, this dissertation comes to us in a form altogether different from that which we are all so familiar. And we shall learn much, if we but open our hearts and ears to the message.

And how, I hear you asking, can a subject as thoroughly dissected as this one offer anything new? By thinking outside the box. For Red Priest is a quartet -- and not the normal piano, violin, viola, cello quartet that is so common in classical music today. No, their formation is made up of Piers Adams on recorders, Julia Bishop on violin, Angela East on cello, and Howard Beach on harpsichord. This is a novel and unique lineup used to full advantage in replaying this timeless classic, one full to bursting with tonalities that will tickle the ear while yet still adhere to the familiar melodies of Vivaldi.

The performance is both irreverent and improvisational. It is in turn quickly played yet slowly savored, stately yet exuberantly rendered, respectful of tradition yet willing to take chances. This is a performance that the major labels have been striving to achieve (and failing miserably to accomplish): attempting to cross the classics with modern sensibilities. Red Priest plays this music with a sense of verve and élan, and, in the process, has created a true crossover recording. Yet they never stray very far from the music as Vivaldi wrote it. And that may very well be the best thing to be said regarding this disc. Its appeal should be multi-genre-ational.



Throughout one hears snippets of other, recognizable, items thrown into the musical mix. For instance, Red Priest begins the disc with bird calls scattered throughout Spring ‘s opening allegro (and wait until you hear how real they sound!), then, in Summer ’s adagio/presto, Adams and Beach make a recorder/harpsichord duet sound like an old-fashioned mellotron. Autumn ’s opening allegro begins at a march tempo before quickly settling back into familiar territory. Then, just before the end of the allegro, they toss in a bit of "America The Beautiful" just for fun. It works, and it adds enjoyment to the proceedings.

As a bonus, Dorian and Red Priest have included a lovely version of Arcangelo Corelli’s The Christmas Concerto to fill out this disc.

The sonics that Dorian Records has given to this 24-bit/HDCD recording are fully as good as any you’ll hear from Redbook CD. One can easily hear the sense of hall space (the disc was recorded in Dorian’s usual venue, Troy Music Hall). The recorders have that small air-blown wooden sound to them. The strings of both the violin and cello are well rendered, while the sonorities of each instrument are kept distinct. The sound of rosiny horsehair bow on strings is also there for you to enjoy. And the delicate, plucked sound of the harpsichord (as compared to the piano’s more forceful presentation) is wonderfully captured. This is a recording that will appeal to both the audiophile as well as the music lover -- in equal parts.

My friends, let us not be guilty of the sin of assumption. Be ye not so eager to write this off as just another Four Seasons interpretation. Instead, repent my brothers and raise your eyes and ears to the heavens and give heartfelt thanks to Red Priest for investing this ancient theme with such a fresh outlook. They have held out to us a new, modern way of listening to this much-played piece, using their unique instrumentation to open to us the true beauty Vivaldi wrote into The Four Seasons . A hearty "amen" -- and a plea for more, please.

John Crossett

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