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Magic and mystique; Red Priest Barber Institute.

The theme of this year's Festival is Magic and Mystique, and although some concerts have shown only tenuous links with it, Red Priest produced buckets full of both, with a programme largely of pieces written in the "fantastic" style of the 17th century.

Red Priest - Piers Adams, Julia Bishop, Angela East and Julian Rhodes - is a curious group, not so much an ensemble as four idiosyncratic and highly capable virtuosi playing together.

As a group they are many good things - theatrical, flamboyant, dynamic, imaginative, witty, exciting, and above all, great fun.

But their showmanship comes at a price.

Too often they are tempted by speed for the sake of it, and because they can all play very fast indeed. Then the ensemble sound is often incoherent, frequently coarse, brash, incomplete. In fact, separately they are more than the sum of the parts.

The acoustic in the Barber Concert Hall was less than cooperative to such a line-up, but in spite of that the solo pieces were very good.

Adams has extraordinary dexterity on the recorder and is well matched by Julia Bishop on violin. Angela East's Bach (from Suite no. 1) was a little laboured, the cello growly and short of resonance, and Rhodes' interpretation of an anonymous Venetian pie ce was quirky and modern.

"Utterly outrageous and gloriously entertaining", chortled one member of the audience as he rushed for the door for cool fresh air and perhaps for a drink.

Quite so.

John Bradshaw
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Author:Bradshaw, John
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 12, 1998
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