The Marais Project: Jennifer Eriksson (director and viola da gamba), Belinda Montgomery (soprano), Tommie Andersson (lutes)
Elysian Fields: Matt Keegan (saxophones), Matt McMahon (piano), Jennifer Eriksson (electric viola da gamba), Siebe Pogson (bass), Finn Ryan (percussion)
29 January, The Independent Theatre, North Sydney
Jennifer Eriksson continually seeks to provide new perspectives on old music and to conjure up unusual musical juxtapositions. For the first Marais Project concert for 2017 she brought together both her early music group, The Marais Project, and her jazz ensemble, Elysian Fields, in a concert entitled ‘It Takes Two’. The Independent Theatre is an attractive venue and its acoustic is clear, with a warm bloom that is ideal for small chamber groups.
In the first half of the concert we heard a selection of music by Marais and his contemporaries performed by The Marais Project. After interval, Elysian Fields presented an interesting selection of jazz pieces which featured Eriksson’s electric viola da gamba. In the printed program Eriksson acknowledged that the audiences for early music and jazz may differ, but she hoped that each would enjoy music in the other style.
The concert started with a bracket of five pieces by John Dowland. Three songs were sung by the fine early music soprano Belinda Montgomery whose pure voice is admirably suited to this repertoire. She understands Dowland’s sense of melancholy and conveys this with subtle phrasing and a sparing use of vibrato. Eriksson’s exquisite playing of two Dowland instrumental pieces re-confirmed her mastery of the gamba and her sympathy with the style of Dowland’s music. Tommie Andersson accompanied on the lute with delicate, sensitive playing which could have been a little less reticent.
A short jump across the Channel brought two anonymous French instrumental pieces and a sarabande by Marais. Accordingly, Eriksson and Andersson showed their long experience and understanding for French music of this period by changing their playing styles and incorporating appropriate ornamentation. The only modern work in the first half was So ell encina by John Paul Jones. This is an attractive piece in the style of a folk song. The final bracket in the first half was three scherzi by Monteverdi, sung stylishly though perhaps a little understated for such demonstrative Italian pieces.
Eriksson informed us that her electric viola da gamba is the only such instrument in Australia. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that all the music in the second half was either written or arranged by members of Elysian Fields. Their program opened with Three Rivers by Steve Hunter, arranged by the group’s pianist Matt McMahon. This provided a good introduction to the sound of the electronic viola da gamba. The inclusion of a bass guitar in the group means that the gamba can become an important melodic instrument and since it is amplified it can be made to balance against louder modern instruments – both acoustic and electronic. The gamba sound combined very well with the soprano and alto saxophones played by Matt Keegan and throughout the program the two instruments often played well-blended duets.
Two reflective ballads by Matt McMahon showed a folksong inspiration. The combination of gamba and piano also worked very well, though the gamba seemed a little over-amplified for the restrained piano playing.
The group then presented Dark Dreaming and Rescue by their bass guitarist Siebe Pogson. The latter piece provided substantial solo passages for each of the instruments which the audience duly applauded. In particular, it gave display opportunities to the less soloistic bass guitar and percussion. Throughout this half of the concert Siebe Pogson also supplied a reliable bass foundation for the group. Similarly, Finn Ryan provided dependable rhythmic support with some attractively restrained effects.
A link between the two halves of the concert was provided by a work by Eriksson entitled Elysian Fields. This is a re-composition of Le Badinage from Marais’ fourth book of pieces. The concert concluded with two movements from Elysium by Matt Keegan and with a Swedish piece entitled Southern Cross as an encore.
Overall, this inventive program traversed some widely separated musical styles and was warmly received by the sizable audience. The next concert by the Marais Project at The Independent Theatre will be on Sunday 16 July, entitled ‘Marais meets Muffat’. It will introduce a newly formed early music ensemble, The Muffat Collective, and provide an opportunity to hear both the viol and violin family perform together.
Larry Turner for SoundsLikeSydney©
Larry Turner is an avid attender of concerts and operas and has been reviewing performances for Sounds Like Sydney for several years. As a chorister for many years in both Sydney and London, he particularly enjoys music from both the great a capella period and the baroque. 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.