Red Priest [Piers Adams (recorders), Julia Bishop (violin), Angela East (cello) & David Wright (harpsichord)]
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 14 December, 2014
Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, London
Red Priest can be relied upon to put on a recital that combines technical brilliance with a theatrical immediacy which, though it can verge on the excessive, is (nearly) always an extension of this ensemble’s flexible as well as determinedly uninhibited music-making.
This programme covered a number of relevant bases – not least that of Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, the tercentenary of whose birth fell earlier this year, though the Suite in A minor is a conflation of music by him and J. S. Bach; in the process revealing just how subtly and incrementally he extended the contrapuntal intricacy of his father’s idiom with a proto-Romantic harmonic richness. Vivaldi was represented by the Concerto Grosso in D minor (RV565), a fine example of his pivoting between relative extremes of poise and aggression whose highlight was its ‘Adagio e Spiccato’ second movement – the deftness of its string writing rendered with due sensitively though not a hint of preciousness.
Otherwise it was Handel all the way. An elegant Prelude in B flat was neatly contrasted by the more overtly expressive ‘Largo and Passacaglia’ from the Suite in G minor (HWV432), while an improvisation on the famous aria ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ favoured violin over recorder to pleasing if slightly muted effect. There was nothing equivocal, however, in a reading of a Recorder Sonata in B minor (HWV367b) from the Fitzwilliam collection that reminded one of Handel’s arguably undervalued prowess in the chamber medium. Neither did an arrangement of the evergreen ‘Harmonious Blacksmith Variations’ from the Keyboard Suite in E (HWV430) disappoint in its bringing out the music’s striking rhythmic ingenuity.
Dominating the programme was a suite arranged by Angela East from Messiah. Divided into three parts (the first two of these framing the first half and the third closing the second half), this took in the extent of Handel’s conception though by no means in chronological order. Thus ‘Part One’ featured the Overture then the opening recitative and aria, but its successor grouped together several of the numbers reflecting the Nativity (though ending with an effervescent transcription of ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ with recorder to the fore), while ‘Part Three’ focussed on post-Crucifixion music in a cumulatively intensifying sequence that culminated with an uproariously jazzy take on the fabled ‘Hallelujah’ chorus.
This often-scintillating programme reminded just how re-creative Red Priest is within a nominally ‘authentic’ context. All of the Handel items can be heard on the ensemble’s latest disc, Handel in the Wind (RP012) – guaranteed to lift the most jaded spirits over Christmas.