Red Priest’s Masterful, Joyous Early Music
know that groups specializing in Baroque, Renaissance and Medieval music have
long since lost the dry self-consciousness of the 1970s and ’80s. Some acts go
further, making entertainment of early music. Even among them, Red Priest
stands out. Its charming British silliness might fall flat if not backed up by
For this “Pirates of the Baroque” program the four musicians entered wearing
wacky red and black pirate garb. Musical piracy of various kinds (“stolen
masterworks”) followed, introduced with grace and wit, and performed with glee.
Red Priest is comprised
of Piers Adams on a variety of recorders, David Greenberg on violin, Angela
East on cello, and Howard Beach on harpsichord. Like only the very best
musicians, they play with a balance of both freedom and discipline. Adams reached heights of recorder playing I didn’t think
were possible, taking the limited inherent sound of his instrument into
Ensemble tightness and
natural balance were remarkable. A crisp rhythmic spirit was constantly
present. This ensemble, by necessity, creates most of its own wildly creative
arrangements, often featuring blazing bravura and lickety-split precision.
Whether playing Bach, Telemann, Vivaldi (whose nickname is the group’s
namesake), or lesser-known composers, Red Priest’s playful arrangements point
up the relationship of Baroque music to the jigs and reels of folk music.
All through the concert I tried to find in my mind’s memory classical musicians who have Red Priest’s comic edge, but found few. Victor Borge and Canadian Brass are distant cousins. Classical music is a wide world. There is more than ample room in it for those who are talented and innovative enough to find new kinds of lighthearted joy.