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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (USA)

January 2006

Red Priest dazzles with 'pirated' Baroque gems



Vacillating between high art and comedic shtick, the British early music ensemble Red Priest delivered a program of Baroque gems Friday evening at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

Red Priest has carved out a unique niche in the early music world with its break-all-rules, rock concert-chamber concert approach to early music performance and with the dazzling technical prowess of recorder player Piers Adams.

Taking their name from Antonio Vivaldi's nickname, earned by virtue of the composer's red hair and ordination in the Catholic Church, the four-person ensemble tore through a program titled, "Pirates of the Baroque." It featured Baroque music that had been "stolen" from one composer by another, or lifted and arranged by members of the group.

The theme of pirated music gave Adams, cellist Angela East and harpsichordist Howard Beach license to appear in stylized pirate attire, leather pants and boots. Violinist David Greenberg succeeded at the daunting task of subbing for a regular ensemble member.

Adams and his recorders are the musical and theatrical focal point of the group's performance. Dubbed the "reigning recorder virtuoso in the world today," he performs with the uninhibited energy of a rock musician who happens to have picked up a recorder instead of something amplified.

Performing from memory, the group was freed from the constraints of chairs and music stands and took full advantage of the freedom. Adams and Greenberg moved about freely, sat on the lip of the stage at one point and later wandered into the wings while playing.

Beyond the shtick, which included a loopy sword fight between Adams and Greenberg armed with a recorder and violin bow, respectively, Red Priest's musical abandon and technical grandstanding worked quite well for pieces such as a Vivace movement from a Telemann sonata, based on themes the composer lifted from folk melodies; the two fast movements of Vivaldi's Concerto in G major; and Jacob Van Eyck's "The English Nightingale."

What was missing from the show, particularly from Adams' portion of it, was a musical investment in the slower, more melodic, less technical bits of the program.

He gave lovely melodies an almost cursory reading, as though waiting for something fast and fun to grab his attention.

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