Concert Review: ‘Collusion’/The Marais Project

Marais project


The Marais Project: Jenny Eriksson with Susie Bishop, Emily-Rose Šárkova and Eliska Sarka

Recital Hall West, Sydney Conservatorium

24 August 2014.

 2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Marais Project and their director Jennifer Eriksson has adopted a theme of Re-imaginings which she explains is ‘taking the opportunity to re-imagine my instrument, the viola da gamba’.  The Collusion concert was held in the intimate setting and attractive acoustic of the Recital Hall West at the Sydney Conservatorium.  Eriksson was joined by a versatile trio of performers: Susie Bishop, Emily-Rose Šárkova and Eliska Sarka.  

The mediaeval mood was established by Sarka declaiming the text of the first musical item: O Virtus Sapientiae by Hildegard von Bingen.  This was then beautifully sung by Bishop who sustained the subdued mood of this antiphon.  Her clear, clean soprano is well suited to early music.

 Eliska Sarka then vividly declaimed the Gloria text from the Latin Mass and, as the concert proceeded, similarly delivered an English translation of the text for each vocal item before it was sung.  This was a very effective way of establishing the mood for each new piece and conveying the text to the audience without needing to include it in the printing programme.  Sarka’s dramatic deliveries were extremely effective and one of the highlights of the concert.

 Handel’s recently rediscovered setting of the Gloria was then sung by Susie Bishop with a reduced instrumental accompaniment.  The work’s two violin parts were played on the harpsichord by Emily-Rose Šárkova while Jennifer Eriksson played the viola da gamba.  The piece dates from Handel’s early Italian period and was written for the virtuosos he encountered there.  Its elaborate coloratura is very challenging and it also requires great dexterity from the instrumental forces.  The performers rose valiantly to the task but the challenges were only partly conquered, particularly in the fast concluding Cum Sancto Spiritu section. 

Jennifer Eriksson had promised a varied programme and the mood changed abruptly with Šárkova’s arrangements of four Marais pieces for piano accordion and viola da gamba.  In a brief introduction Šárkova explained that she was influenced by music from the Balkans and it was fascinating to hear how pieces written by Marais for viola da gamba could sound as though they originated from the far eastern side of Europe.  Eriksson and Šárkova frequently employed a characteristic Slavonic rubato so that the French origins of the music were almost unrecognisable.

 Three songs by Joaquin Rodrigo followed.  These were well sung by Susie Bishop and sensitively accompanied by Emily-Rose Šárkova, this time on the piano, and with Jennifer Eriksson introducing her new electric viola da gamba.  This is a curious beast, with a recognisably gamba-like sound, though with a discreet electronic amplification.  But perhaps it is best reserved just as a curious novelty. 

The most recent work on the programme was a song written by Cliff Kerr especially for these performers.  This was a witty setting of the poem May I feel? by e.e. cummings.  It received a spirited delivery but cummings’s witty text was not always audible. 

The final scheduled item reverted to the core period of the viola da gamba with Monteverdi’s duet Chiome d’oro sung by both Bishop and Šárkova.  This was another energetic performance in which Šárkova also accompanied on the piano accordion while Eriksson played the gamba. 

 As an encore, the concert concluded with a high-spirited rendition of Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Show enlisting all four performers together for the first time.

 As promised, it had been an inventive and enjoyable concert which expanded the styles of music in which the viola da gamba can be included.  It communicated a sense of fun in music-making though perhaps not always achieving the highest levels of technical perfection.

 Another innovative concert by the Marais Project will again be held at the Sydney Conservatorium on 26 October.

Larry Turner for SoundsLikeSydney©

Larry Turner has been singing in choirs for many years – both in Sydney and London.  He is an avid attender of operas and concerts, with an emphasis on vocal music.  He particularly enjoys music from both the great a capella period and the baroque – especially the lesser-known works of Bach and Handel.  He has written programme notes for Sydney Philharmonia, the Intervarsity Choral Festival and the Sydneian Bach Choir and is currently part of a team researching the history of Sydney Philharmonia for its forthcoming centenary.

SoundsLikeSydney accepts no fee for its reviews.

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