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The Charleston Gazette (West Virginia USA)

January 2006

Pirates capture chamber crowd

By Pat Hendricks

Britain's rebel chamber music trio Red Priest captured the imaginations of Charleston Chamber Music Society members and guests Sunday at Christ Church United Methodist, when they sauntered on stage in leather breeches and assorted swashbuckling garb.

The group presented its self-styled "Pirates of the Baroque" program of stolen themes and purloined arrangements.

Their costume accessories ran mostly to red, from harpsichordist Howard Beach's headscarf and sash to recorder virtuoso Piers Adams' military blouse and cellist Angela East's off-the-shoulder singlet. Strengthened by the exceptional talents of guest violinist-arranger David Greenberg, the ensemble's performances ran from red hot tempos to way cool interpretations, with plenty of visual and aural humor relieving moments of overwhelming intensity.

"Preludio from Bach's Partita BWV 1006" opened with startling vigor and breakneck pace - rearranged by Red Priest to showcase the Brits' instrumental chops and "Body English" performance style. Thunderous applause rewarded this initial effort, and raised the bar of expectations.

"Telemann was a man who stole music from the poor and sold it to the rich," Adams told us, before launching into a duel between his recorder and East's cello, opening Mr. T.'s "Gypsy Sonata in A minor." Dramatized glances were exchanged with musical strains handed over
among the instruments, and lots of knee action from the two standing players further enlivened the scene. The gallop to the finale ended with a shout - the first of several during the afternoon.

No wonder the harpsichord had to be re-tuned before Greenberg's arrangement of traditional nautical "Three Airs" could begin! The last, interestingly titled "Come Ashore Jolly Tar with Your Trousers On," began placidly with a long recorder melody


and continued in quite traditional variations before gypsylike moods took over. Adams left the stage mysteriously, and exited through the rear door.

He later reappeared with a tin-whistle-sounding sopranino recorder, playing as he strolled the aisles. Every corner of the soaring sanctuary was serenaded with crystal clear articulation, astounding breath control and the stunning trills, tweets and birdlike ornamentation of Jacob Van Eyck's "The English Nightingale."

Vivaldi's "The Sea Storm" painted musical pictures of waves crashing, winds lashing and - as arranged by Red Priest - a pirate ship and an island, with treasure and a crate of rum. The raging, wide-ranging sound effects certainly exhausted the exercise books of the respective instruments, but not the energy or precise control of the players.

Vivaldi's "Concerto in D minor RV 565" presented five movements - three of them marked "Allegro" (fast) - with solo opportunities for the harpsichord, a vibrato-less cello and violin. Before beginning Bach's "Prelude from Suite No. 1 for Cello," East gave her instrument's computer-certified pedigree: made by Peter Wamsley in 1725 from a tree felled in 1538. Her (and its) lovely sonorities were enhanced by overtones within the sanctuary, and her pitch, dynamic range and bowing presented the familiar piece with sensitivity and passion.

Two Bach arrangements by Greenberg and three hornpipes and a reel took up where the Prelude ended, growing more and more boisterous throughout the set, which ended with shouts and percussive effects. "Neil Gow's Lament," played plaintively by Greenberg featured lower strings, flowing melody and soft double-stops. It would be a hit at our Vandalia Gathering.

Gramophone magazine had it right when they tagged Red Priest: "The U.K.'s most dynamic, theatrical and outrageously different baroque ensemble."

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