Carnival Of The Seasons

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Carnival of Seasons

St Werburgh's Church,
Chester, 11 July 2006

Concert is much too tame a word to describe an evening with Red Priest, a small, but exciting baroque group which takes its name from Antonio Vivaldi, the red-haired priest who taught and composed for the students of the Ospedale de la Pieta in Venice.

From the moment the musicians came on, we knew this would be no ordinary concert. Piers Adams, recorder soloist and founder of the group, resembles nothing so much as a cross between the Pied Piper and a troubadour, and the other members of the group, Julia Bishop, Angela East, and Howard Beach, are clearly thoroughly in sympathy with each other and with his ideas.


The concert opened with "Spring" from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons". The solo violin part was transferred to the recorder in this arrangement, and the twittering birdsong of the opening movement was never more clearly depicted than in Piers Adams' processional entry. Later in the piece, Howard Beach deserted the harpsichord in favour of a violin in order to represent the barking dog of the second movement.

The second element in "Spring" in this Carnival of Seasons was Biber's Easter Sonata, "The Crucifixion", played by Julia Bishop and Howard Beach. This was a disturbingly graphic account, which even included the nails being driven home.


The mood lightened with the start of Summer, represented by Jacob van Eyck's variations on a popular song entitled "What shall we do this evening?", played with staggering virtuosity by Piers Adams. This was followed by a suite from Henry Purcell's "A Midsummer Night's Dream", which included dances for fairies, savages, and the ethereal "followers of night". The first half came to a close with Vivaldi's "Summer", with more birdsong, including the tiny sopranino recorder's presentation of the goldfinch, and the sudden summer storm which brought the first half of the concert to a tempestuous conclusion.


Angela East began the second half with a Prelude by Bach, then was joined by the rest of the ensemble for "Autumn" in which Piers Adams' recorder became the hunted stag, finally expiring before our very eyes. This was followed by "The Witches' Dance" by Robert Johnson, in which the effect of the already rather chilling music was heightened by the performers' cackles and hisses!


Winter began with Arcangelo Corelli's "Christmas Concerto", itself a work almost as familiar as the Four Seasons, but seen in a different light in this arrangement. Finally, Vivaldi's "Winter", enlivened this time by a Caribbean reading of the Largo, before the final movement ended the concert in the most exhilarating fashion.


As one whose acquaintance with the recorder - a plastic treble, played at school - was ever of the chilliest, this concert was a great revelation to me. It was thrilling to hear what the various recorders can do in skilled hands, not to mention slightly disconcerting to see Piers Adam play two recorders simultaneously.

Vivat Vivaldi! Vivat Red Priest!

Review (c) Rachel Wright, 2006



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