‘Lady Sings the viol’ the Marais Project – CD review

Abandon your notions regarding the viola da gamba when you listen to this recording, Lady Sings the Viol, from The Marais Project.

In their 4th studio recording, the ensemble, led by gambist, founder and Music Director Jennifer Erkisson has gathered an ensemble of 5 female voices (Belinda Montgomery, Nicole Thomson, Megan Cronin, Narelle Evans, Mara Kiek) and 10 period instrumentalists to record an anthology of 15 songs which span seven hundred years from as far back as the 1300s, through to the 20th century. Eriksson aims to prove that the gamba can not only straddle the ages, but can also break out of its its stylistic mould.

Performing in differing smaller combinations, the instrumental players include 5 gambists (Eriksson herself, Imogen Granwal, Shaun Ng, Catherine Upex, Daniel Yeadon) a violinist (Fiona Ziegler), theorbo/guitarist (Tommie Andersson), percussionist (Jess Ciampa), harpist (Alex Cronin) and gittern player (Llew Kiek). The range of instruments offers the opportunity to present music from its very origins as well as to tilt at the unexpected.

Eriksson comments: “The last CDs we’ve made have been of fairly serious music. I wanted to record a collection of more relaxed music that would reach a wider audience, so we’ve taken covers from different popular songs through the times.”

Voice, gittern and gamba come together to perform the earliest of these – Bryd one brere c 1300, Anon.; there’s music by John Bull from the 16th century, played by a consort of four viols, Muzettes from the 17th century master, Marin Marais, grounds and a Chaconne by Juan Aranes (d 1649).

By this time in history, changes in instrument making and materials, relegated the viol to the status of a dinosaur, unable to keep pace with evolutionary changes. The music written after the 17th century and performed by the early instruments is quite novel to hear.

Schubert’s (1797 – 1828) intensely romantic Ave Maria acquires a plaintive beauty, introduced on the gamba by Jennifer Eriksson and Tommie Andersson on an 1820s guitar, then taken up by soprano Belinda Montgomery; other more recent compositions which need more substantial forces and a richer texture are bulked up with well matched voices and the addition of instruments. Narelle Evans’  work as a cabaret singer is well suited to her rendition of Padam Padam the torch song made famous by Edith Piaf performed with violin, 3 gambas and 1820s classical guitar. Belinda Montgomery delivers a more lyrical version of another Piaf classic La vie en rose with classical guitar and 2 gambas. Then there’s an instrumental track, Elena Kats-Chernin’s Revolving Doors, (arranged by Tommie Andersson) and the Stanley Myers classic She was beautiful. Perhaps the boldest cover is the Harry Warren/Mack Gordon classic Chattanooga Choo Choo (arranged By Dan Walker) which Glenn Miller played  as big band classic. It takes on a gentle swing and a very apt vintage sound performed by 2 gambas, theorbo, snare drum and 3 voices in tight harmony.

The opportunities of the recording studio are a boon for an ensemble such as this, allowing balance and amplification to create sounds and perform repertoire that may not work in a recital hall. Eriksson says that the balance followed natural confluence of sound. ” The viol is very close in character to the  voice so that was easy to match. The plucked instruments like the harp and the theorbo are soft and their sound also blend well with the gamba and voice.”

She continues, talking about matching the voices with the repertoire: on Lady Sings the Viol. “Belinda Montgomery is a  classically trained soprano who has done the most work with The Marais Project. She does a lot of baroque singing.  Her voice fitted the style that I wanted for Ave Maria and La vie en rose. Narelle Evans does a lot of cabaret and rock so we chose her for her more throaty voice. Mara Kiek specialises in Bulgarian singing using a lot of chest voice so she sings the 13C English love song. Nicole Thomson is also classically trained. They’re all singers with whom I’ve before and it was just a matter of choosing some of our favourite songs for the CD.”

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©

Listen to an excerpt here.

Lady Sings the Viol- The Marais Project. MCD 481 $25 plus postage.

Click here to buy on line.

Track List

  1. Padam Padam – Norbert Glanzberg
  2. Revolving Doors – Elena Kats-Chernin
  3. La vie en rose – Louis Guglielmi
  4. Ave Maria – Franz Schubert
  5. Chacoña- Juan Arañés
  6. Italian Ground – Anon.
  7. Hanacpachap cussicuinin – Anon
  8. Dorick Fantasy No.1 – John Bull
  9. She was beautiful – Stanley Myers
  10. Muzette I & II- Marin Marais
  11. So ell encina – John Paul Jones
  12. Bryd one brere – Anon.
  13. Bryd bouree – Anon.
  14. Låt till Far (song to my father)- Pers Erik Olsson
  15. Chattanooga Choo Choo – Harry Warren


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