The Baroque Bohemians
Works by Biber, Telemann, Campra, Handel, Vivaldi et al
Red Priest Recordings RP 014
Readers who are fans of Red Priest and know the sort of things the group gets up to will need no further enticement other than the release of its latest CD. Others, dare I say it, may need to proceed with caution. This is a disc of arrangements. Many of them work well and we can admire the vitality, imagination and virtuosity on display.
Among the most convincing and enjoyable items are a captivating dance from Campra’s opera-ballet Les Fêtes Vénitienne, a round by Byrd, and a group of 18th-century anonymous dances arranged by Adam Summerhayes, a versatile member of the group. He gives a dazzling performance of a violin sonata by Biber, though I should have preferred to hear it without extraneous effects.
So far so good, more or less. The problem for my ears and sensibilities, old-fashioned though they doubtless are, concerns the chosen pieces by Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi. Having listened to these meddlesome arrangements, one word comes to mind: Why? Handel’s affecting lament ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ from his opera Rinaldo is reduced to something akin to salon music with oblique quotations from the Hornpipe of the Water Music, while two movements from Telemann’s Concerto for recorder and flute are wantonly gypsified. Telemann did that uncommonly well himself and at the very least to comparable effect. The 1960s French ensemble The Swingle Singers were much more respectful of Telemann’s music. The well-known A minor Violin Concerto, RV 356 from Vivaldi’s L’estro armonico is ingeniously arranged and brilliantly played but loses almost all its charm. Oh, and there is even an appearance elsewhere of Howard Goodall’s Blackadder theme tune. All this would be entertaining live on stage but lovers of Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi beware of aural missiles.