Red Priest Records RP012
Red Priest albums are always stylish, entertaining and controversial, and this one is no exception. It took me a little while to become accustomed to the sound world of Red Priest – recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord – as applied to Handel’s Messiah but I found I soon entered into it and really enjoyed their imaginative interpretations of such well-known music. There is a lot of very fine, conventional playing, contrasting with sections of virtuosic mania. The arrangements, originally by Angela East but developed and re-worked during the rehearsal process, are extremely ingenious and half the fun lies in picking out the little snippets of other pieces which creep in. There are some wonderful variations for Piers Adams in The Recorder Shall Sound, followed by a lovely duet for bass recorder and violin in Despised and Rejected. Siciliano Pedicuro (“How Beautiful are the Feet”) is another gorgeous duet, this time for violin and cello, and the only funny thing about it is the title. The jazzed-up “Hallelujah”, on the other hand, had me laughing as, after snatches of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, “Czardas” and other familiar tunes, it somehow turned into “Happy Birthday to You”.
“Lascia ch’io Pianga” from Rinaldo marks the start of the second half of the performance with some lovely violin playing by Julia Bishop. The Trio Sonata in F major op.2 no. 4 is the only piece in the programme originally composed for the Red Priest instrumental line-up, five hyper-active fast movements contrasted with beautifully ornamented slow ones. We are allowed to recover from the breath-taking “Harmonious Blacksmith Variations” with the beautiful Largo from Concerto Grosso op.3 no. 2. This leads into some very silly pizzicato which turns out to be the Passacaglia from the Keyboard Suite in G minor which has serious moments before becoming more and more manic. The finale is Zadok the Red Priest in which, as Piers Adams describes in his booklet notes, Zadok the Priest and the Queen of Sheba become unlikely but fervent lovers. Handel finally disappears into the wind with the bonus track, Aria Amorosa taken from the CD Priest on the Run.