echoes of the baroque
is among the new wave of period performance ensembles, and, as this
lively pre-Christmas concert showed, it is charting a very distinctive
the playing of early music have been shifting and evolving over the
past few decades. Things in general have moved on from those earnest,
knit-your-own-lentils days when attempts at "authenticity"
in early music often equated to furrow-browed joylessness. With the
acquisition of greater mastery in the playing of historical instruments,
musicians have gone on to bring a bit of drive and spirit to the music,
though often still with the ultimate goal of coming as close as possible
to what the music might have sounded like at the time it was written.
a quartet of violin, harpsichord, cello and recorders, has gone a stage
further. It has a basis in research, and has doubtless pored over the
historically important treatises, but it does not seek to replicate
baroque practices to the letter.
What it does
do, though, is to use knowledge of how the music might have been played
and then interpret it in a highly individual way. And why not? We do
not, after all, expect every pianist to play Beethoven or Chopin as
if the only criterion were to make it sound like a 19th-century performance.
Red Priest has done is to demonstrate that the music of Vivaldi and
other baroque composers is also open to interpretation and, at times,
artistic reinvention, and can gain from an injection of personality.
given to this programme, "The Red Priest and the Virgin",
was saucily suggestive of a lurid tabloid headline, but Temple Church
had no need to fear for its dignity. "Red Priest" was Vivaldi's
nickname - deriving not from any proto-communist leanings but from his
flame-coloured hair - and, in this context, the Virgin was of course
Our Lady, though the reference to her in the title was a touch gratuitous,
since she hardly figured in the music at all.
was framed by two Vivaldi concertos, and also contained Corelli's Christmas
Concerto, William Byrd's harpsichord piece The Bells and short works
by Maurizio Cazzati, Diego Ortiz and Jacob van Eyck.
probably run a mile from what Red Priest does to this music, but virtuosity,
verve and creative spontaneity are fused together in a way that makes
the impact positively volcanic.