In these days of Digital Rights Management and
Intellectual Property Rights, it is easy to forget
that piracy was never restricted to the High Seas,
however much a recent very successful series of films
may have suggested so! The "Pirates of the Baroque"
programme presented by the flamboyant Baroque group
Red Priest offered music representing several different
forms of piracy, although of course the pirates of
legend were among them.
Stolen material ...
There was the usual plundering of previous composers
or compositions, of which even such luminaries as
Handel were guilty. Not surprising, this, given that
composers in the Baroque period were expected to
produce new pieces with much greater frequency
than was the case later, when composers and musicians
became Artists instead of Artisans. We could, after
all, refer to it more kindly as "recycling"!
Stolen names ...
There was also the piracy of a name - it was certainly
news to me that the famous Adagio of Albinoni (1671-1751)
was in fact written by one Remo Giazzotto (a musicologist)
in the 1940s. In the Baroque period it was apparently not
uncommon for unscrupulous publishers to claim that a recent
publication was written by a much more famous composer than
was actually the case, in hopes of increased sales. Maybe
that is what gave Signor Giazzotto the idea...
Piracy on the High Seas ...
Then, there was Piracy on the High Seas - no less than
two storms (one by Simonetti, and one by Vivaldi), and
an astonishingly atmospheric "Senti lo mare" by Tartini
(wind noises provided by a recorder traversed), a pirate
dance, and A Day in the Life of a Pirate, compiled and
arranged by the group's harpsichordist, Howard Beach,
from the works of Francois Couperin.
The concert ...
From the moment the piratically-clad performers appeared,
this was clearly going to be an Occasion - Red Priest
arrange the music for their own small forces (only four,
although with the variety of instruments at his disposal,
Piers Adams is a host in himself!), and bring out to the
full any atmospheric directions or special effects that
the composer may have thought of.
They also, very clearly, enjoy what they do. The final
piece before the interval, Vivaldi's Concerto Grosso
in Dminor, began with a duel - this was no polite duet! -
between Piers Adams' recorder and Julia Bishop's violin,
although fortunately the combatants were separated by
their seconds (Howard Beach and Angela East) before any
harm was done. After the interval, the Jour des Pirates
included a battle (which came to an end amid the
heart-rending wails of the wounded), itself followed by
the frolics on shore of the successful buccaneers.
The audience - packed to capacity for this "Family Concert"
in the Music Room at Gregynog - were also treated to a
Caribbean reading of the Largo from "Winter" of Vivaldi's
Four Seasons as an encore. Given a little more room to
move, it would have made a fantastic Rhumba - anachronistic,
admittedly, but spectacular nonetheless.
Clearly, those who prefer their music "safe" and tamed
will find such groups as Red Priest downright intimidating,
but as Piers Adams pointed out in the programme notes, the
original Baroque composers were a colourful crowd, and
scandal was never far away. I find that an exhilarating
performance such as this will often reveal facets of the
music I never saw for myself, especially given the very
considerable musicality and great scholarship that underpins
This was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon!