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
"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
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