Handel in the Wind

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Red Priest Recordings
ALBUM TITLE: Handel in the Wind
WORKS: ch’io Pianga; Trio Sonata in F; The Harmonious Blacksmith Variations; Zadok the Red Priest, etc
PERFORMER: Piers Adams (recorders), Angela East (cello), Julia Bishop (violin), David Wright (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: RP 012

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If you make it past the cheesily punning title, hold on tight: Red Priest’s Handel takes no hostages. A whistle-stop tour of Messiah opens with a psychedelic gloss on the Overture; interlopers include a snatch of the Jaws theme; ‘the people that walked in darkness’ emerge into the ‘great light’ of a swinging jazz club; and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is topped and tailed by Monty Python’s Always look on the Bright Side of Life and Happy Birthday to You. That’s just the start. The Queen of Sheba puts in a breathless ‘arrival’ during Zadok the Priest, and an Irish jig and bellowed yee-hah cross swords with the Harmonious Blacksmith.

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There’s a serious point to it all (allegedly), but the slick exuberance and undergraduate common room cleverness suggests Cambridge Footlights meets Victor Borge. Even the Trio Sonata Op. 2 No. 4 – whose forces fit the ensemble like a glove – comes in for gentle teasing with a zippy Vivace high on laughing gas, and a vamping introduction to the Finale. For sheer technical wizardry, charismatic showmanship, and expressive devilment, Red Priest is in an exhilarating class of its own. Sceptics however will smile at the irony underpinning the liner notes’ opening sentence: ‘this is a disc that arguably should never have been made’! Paul Riley