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Edmonton Journal (Canada)

January 2006

Swashbuckling show blows them out of the water

Early music group Red Priest delights with zany brand of baroque

by Bill Rankin, Journal Culture Writer

On Saturday evening, the Edmonton Chamber Music Society saw a picture of what it would like to become. Their guest artists, the dynamic early music group Red Priest, drew an absolutely packed house full of listeners ranging from elementary school children to long-time devotees of Edmonton's chamber music scene. The concert began 15 minutes late so the large crowd could be seated. There was a buzz in the Old Arts Building that is rare at most concerts, let alone chamber music events.

Red Priest did far more than just play good old music well. They put on a show that awed with the breadth of musicality the four musicians displayed, and regularly drew encouraging whoops and giggles for the wit and zany antics they brought to the performance of everything from Bach and Telemann to traditional jigs and hornpipes.
The players were decked out in pirate garb befitting the theme of the evening - musical pilferage, and from the opening notes, the band took cutlass to jugular with swashbucklingly zeal.

Recorder player Piers Adams and his crew's brand of Baroque is often vaudevillian in its approach, but when called for, say in the beautiful Adagio from J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata BMV 1020 or in Niel Gow's Lament, played tenderly by violinist David Greenberg, Red Priest met the music where the sentiment comes from, and they delivered the intended emotion without putting their own personalities front and centre.


When they shifted from bouncing on their toes, adding the equivilent of body English to a zesty Vivaldi Allegro into quiet mode, you felt they could easily hold an audience for a whole evening without the clownish antics. But why bother when what they do do is so much more fun for everyone? Even harpsichordist Howard Beach, sporting a colourful bandana, found ways to dramatize his role as supportive continuo contributor, especially toward the end. A little more of him in a solo role would have been nice. But make no mistake, their over-the-topsail comic flair was always in the service of the music first.

Adams, with the generally penetrating timbre of his recorders, naturally held the spotlight in most tunes, but Greenberg had several good runs as first mate. He was especially enteraining in Telemann's Gypsy Sonata in A minor, drifting back and forth between decorous Baroque idioms to the cusp of a czadas. Greenberg had no qualms about making his fiddle sound harsh if required in service of the elemental Hungarian dance. Greenberg also demonstrated his talent for Cape Breton-style fiddling as well as Baroque bowing throughout the program, which drifted far away from 18th century courtly dances continually. He coloured his playing in the Telemann with melodramatic gypsyisms that suited the occasion just fine and drew big laughs for his effort.

Red Priest's Angela East, playing her 1725 cello baroque style with its body clamped between her thighs, gave solid, always audible support to the rhythm section, and her solo work in the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major provided one of those calming respites from the humourous routines.

Red Priest takes a damn the 42-pounder approach to their art, and the results were a succession of direct hits Saturday night.

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