CD Review:Smörgåsbord! Music from Sweden/The Marais Project


Smörgåsbord! –  a “Swedish hors d’œuvres served with an assortment of delicacies – a medley, a miscellany, a rich variety or selection.”  True to this description, The Marais Project’s fifth and newest CD,  Smörgåsbord! is a collection of delicious morsels and mains from traditional and folk idioms, early music and contemporary offerings. Smörgåsbord! pays homage to the Scandinavian heritage of two of its directors and core musicians, gamba player Jenny Eriksson and theorbo player/classical guitarist Tommie Andersson.

For this recording, made in 2014, Jenny Eriksson and Tommie Andersson have recruited guests artists  tenor Pascal Herington,  flautist Melissa Farrow and violinist Fiona Ziegler to the troupe. There are 8 “main courses” divided into 24 smaller dishes adding up to just over one hour of intensely pleasurable listening.

The recording opens with the haunting  old pastoral hymn Gammal fäbodpsalm played by the quartet of instrumentalists.

Herington joins the ensemble for four songs by Swedish poet and composer Carl Michael Bellman (1740 – 1795). Rather like the English printmaker William Hogarth, Bellman’s importance derives from his unembellished portrayal of everyday life  in song and verse. Singing in Swedish, Herington’s sensitive story telling colours the tales with lightness and agility, silken smooth phrasing, bravado and lovelorn wistfulness. Presently furthering his career in Germany, he performs this style of this song to perfection.

Two contributions from early composers book end the introspective and achingly beautiful Pavane: thoughts of a septuagenarian, written by Esbjörn Svensson (1964 – 2008)and arranged by Andersson. Preceding this is Johan Helmich Roman’s Sonata No 1 in G major  from the 1727 Sonata for transverse flute, a gentle quintet of movements in which Melissa Farrow is accompanied by Andersson playing the theorbo and Eriksson playing the  viola da gamba. Following the Pavane is the Suite No 2 in G minor from Pièces en Trio composed by gamba maestro Marin Marais, a suite of seven movements written in Paris in 1692, played elegantly and in style by Farrow, Ziegler, Andersson and Eriksson. Perhaps the most remarkable things about this bracket of pieces is how well matched they are.  Despite being separated by several centuries, they segue imperceptibly from one to the next, illustrating just how firmly some new music  is anchored in older aesthetics.

The Swedish Folk Music Suite is a grouping of four works, one traditional and the other 3 by late 19th and 20th century composers. Arranged by Andersson, it is the opportunity for each of the instrumentalists to showcase their soloistic talents. Låt till Far (Tune for Father) is introduced by the deeper voice of the gamba in improvisatory fashion with double stops and ornaments;  Födelsedagsvisa  is  a simple and melodious traditional Birthday Song introduced by the flute; Fiona Ziegler introduces Gråtlåten  (The Crying Tune) in virtuosic style with flourishing ornamentation and double stops.

Herington joins the instrumentalists for Om sommaren sköna ( In Beautiful Summer), a traditional song, in which he expertly captures the essence of pastoral serenity. Finally, a tongue in cheek nod to contemporary Swedish music with Andersson’s (that’s Benny arranged by Tommie) duet for viola da gamba and theorbo – Courante La Waterlö.

The blend of instruments and the balance of sound in Smörgåsbord! is well judged and easy on the ear. Smörgåsbord! is an excellent  foil and sequel to The Marais Project’s previous release, Lady Sings the Viol, which, as might be gleaned from its title focuses on the female voice.

Great care has been taken with the literature accompanying the CD. The artwork is exquisite, the historical information is extensive and the full text and translations have been published. Smörgåsbord! is, in addition to being a recording project, a journey into the past as Eriksson and Andersson discover their heritage in music. As they explain: “An Australian CD of Swedish music? Why not? Art does not have to be sensible. All worthwhile music is a labour of love; and we love this music.”

A collector’s item.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Smörgåsbord! Music from Sweden by The Marais Project is available on the move label, MCD 512.

View this video of the making of Smörgåsbord! Music from Sweden by The Marais Project.


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