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
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
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.