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GRAMOPHONE (07/2016)
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Red Priest 

Code-barres / Barcode : 5060179090122 Code-barres / Barcode : 5060189086160



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Reviewer: William Yeoman


You only have to compare the titles of these two recordings to realise what an inspired idea it was to review them side by side (and no, it wasn’t my idea). The antics of HIPsters Red Priest need no introduction, yet it’s a rare treat to have an action-packed recital recording, cloaked in spaghetti western aesthetics, by the ensemble’s ‘wild man of the recorder’ Piers Adams and ‘hard man of the harpsichord’ David Wright. By contrast, Altus Records’ handsomely packaged and remastered reissue of Richard Harvey and friends’ classic 1986 ASV recording of the same name is the very epitome of charm and decorum.


That’s not to say that Harvey, who performs on a fine collection of recorders made by the legendary Friedrich von Huene, shies away from extravagance and virtuosity – witness the brilliance of his playing in Leclair’s Sonata in F or Finger’s Divisions on a Ground in F, the latter otherwise so full of wistful charm. But whether he’s in the company of such exceptional musicians as Monica Huggett, Roy Goodman, Jakob Lindberg or Timothy Roberts, or of composers such as Telemann, Handel, Baston or Croft, it’s Harvey’s urbanity and disarming sprezzatura that shine through every time.


The title ‘The Genteel Companion’ is borrowed from ‘a little book of instruction and tunes for the recorder, published in


1683’. Such charming self-effacement would seem wildly out of place in the world of the ‘madcap musicians of the Seicento’, as Adams and Wright have characterised the likes of Biber, Castello and Mealli: those ‘early trailblazers’ whose music ‘can still infuse us today with the thrill of the unexpected’.


And thrills are exactly what Adams and Wright deliver. Opening with Biber’s extraordinary Sonata No 3, with its coda that is ‘pure Monty Python’, and careful to break up the madness with more reflective, lyrical works by Uccellini and Fontana, they storm their way through thickets of keyboard batteries, recorder roulades and all manner of technical devilry with superhuman virtuosity, a laughing recklessness and style you can’t buy.

Respite from the fireworks can be found too in harpsichord pieces such as d’Anglebert’s G minor Prelude and Bull’s Fantasia in A minor, where one is able to savour Wright’s pungent artistry in isolation. But it is in the final work, Corelli’s Sonata in C major, Op 5 No 3, so exquisitely rendered by Adams and Wright, that we find perhaps the most natural link between these two very different yet perfectly complementary recordings.


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