Red Priest, a quartet of very talented Baroque performance specialists, derives its name from the moniker assigned the famous Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi (of Four Seasons fame) because of his flaming red hair. The repertoire was chosen with a wink and loosely based on Vivaldi being run out of town, his music (and lifestyle) having fallen into disfavor with Venetian politicos ( ergo clerics).
From this scaffolding Red Priest hangs a tapestry made up a collection of English, Spanish, German, and of course, Italian Baroque sonatas, concertos, and fantasies. They are all nervous, fast paced affairs, full of virtuoso anxiety and skillful paranoia. The liner notes contain a fantasy of a fleeing Vivaldi considering his exile destination. His thoughts carry him to Spain and the great composers Castello and Ortiz and their decidedly Spanish flavor.
Also representing Spain are Luis De Narvaez and Bartolomeo de Selma e Salaverde, each contributing songs to the mix. Schmelzer and Telemann show up form Germany with Purcell and Handel from England. Vivaldi’s fellow Italians Monteverdi and Uccellini also add their two cents. All of the music is moderate to fast tempi, personifying flight from unfriendly climes.
Red Priest is a superb baroque group which opts for smaller, more intimate performance styles. The Englishman Piers Adams is claimed to be the finest Baroque recorder player performing, though I suspect that Michala Petre might disagree. He leads an equally talented English trio consisting of cellist Angela East, harpsichordist Howard Beach, and violinist Julia Bishop. Their approach is historically informed and uses period instruments where available.
All that is well and good, but it does not begin to capture the excitement of listening to these fine recordings. These bold and sure performers are not afraid to display their considerable talent. What Red Priest has effectively done with Priest on the Run, as well as their new recording, Nightmare in Venice, is produce a gothic baroque Now That is What I Call Music series for classical music fans. Red Priest is currently on tour, offering The Four Seasons as I am sure no one else can.
Sonata Terza (Dario Castello); Two Spanish Dances (Diego Ortiz); Gypsy Sonata (Georg Phillip
Telemann); Cancion Del Emperador (Luis De Narvaez); Renaissance Revels (Anonymous); The
Cuckoo Sonata (Johann Heinrich Smelzer); La Bergamasca (Marco Uccellini); Two In One Upon A
Ground (Henry Purcell); Aria Amorosa (George Frederic Handel); Fantasia For Violin De Gamba
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