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The Oregonian(USA)

November 2003

Red Priest adds antics to Baroque adeptness

It's a pity Red Priest couldn't have come to town a couple of weeks earlier. Halloween would have been the ideal time to realize fully the gimmickry of the early music ensemble's "Baroque Fantasy" program, presented at Kaul Auditorium Sunday afternoon.

The pieces were chosen largely for their themes of otherworldly wildness and dark mystery, from the "Nightmare" concerto of the "Red Priest" himself, Antonio Vivaldi, to Jean-Marie Leclair's "Dance of the Blessed Spirits." Members of the British ensemble opened the concert by stalking onto the half-lit stage in black capes with hoods.

Red Priest's four members -- recorder player Piers Adams, violinist Julia Bishop, cellist Angela East and harpsichordist Howard Beach -- played almost the entire two-hour program from memory, which allowed for tight ensemble work and plenty of prancing about and mock-serious theatrics. Their demeanor combined the self-conscious intensity of Kronos Quartet with the easy familiarity and self-deprecating humor of Quartetto Gelato.

Listeners who prefer their music straight up could close their eyes, and some did, but Red Priest's over-the-top style extends well beyond the visuals.


The abundance of ornaments would have put the most heavily laden Christmas tree to shame, and apart from East's measured, luminous performance of the Prelude from Bach's Fifth Cello Suite, the afternoon was an up-tempo affair, to say the least. If you had only this example of the Baroque, you'd have to imagine that composers of the period were a hypercaffeinated bunch who never met a molto vivace they didn't like.

Red Priest's assault on the orthodoxies of performance practice cuts two ways. On one hand, it helps to demolish outmoded ideas about authenticity in early music. On the other, the extramusical stuff can be distracting (but without it, as an acquaintance ironically remarked during intermission, all you'd have would be the music).

I would have gone away snarling if they hadn't been such remarkable musicians. As a champion of his much-maligned instrument, Adams deserves special note;
he's one of only a handful of recorder players in the world who can display such awesome digital dexterity and stamina. He and his bandmates treat Baroque music in the finest rock tradition. So if you get a chance to catch Red Priest, take it -- and take your lighter, too. Dude!


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