We have been following Jennifer Eriksson’s “Marais Project” since its inception. Marin Marais (1656-1728) was a prolific viola da gamba player and composer. He wrote many volumes of gamba music. In the year 2000 Ericsson set herself the ambitious task of doing live performances of all of them. Her concerts feature a lot of other music too, but there is always some Marais in there. After 17 years she has reached about 85% of that goal. An impressive feat!
This concert was two for the price of one. The first half was the Marais Project featuring the singer Koen van Stade and the lutanist Tommie Andersson. The second half was the Elysian Fields ensemble, basically a Jazz ensemble with Susie Bishop on voice and violin, Matt Keegan on sax, Matt McMahon on piano, Jonathan Swartz on double bass and Fin Ryan on drums. Of course Jennifer Eriksson is the common denominator, playing the traditional gamba in the Marais Project and her mean looking electric black number in the latter.
Only one Marais gamba piece was included in the first half of this concert. The Muzette/Double/Menuet Muzette from book IV; it was accompanied on lute and was delightful. It really danced.
The other featured composers in this half of the concert were John Dowland and the slightly less well known composer of a similar ilk, and almost exact contemporary of Dowland, John Danyel. Van Stade, the Dutch early music specialist (resident in Australia) sang the songs with stylistic panache and commitment. Mostly the songs are about unrequited love but there are some wonderfully salacious double meanings: “gentle love, draw forth thy wounding dart”, “I sit, I sigh, I weep, I faint, I die in endless pain” etc. The lute and gamba accompanied here. A solo Pavan for lute was delicately played, as was My Lord Willoughby’s Welcome Home for viol and lute.
The second half (after some delicious/coffee/tea included in the ticket price) was a different matter all together.
A cycle of 4 poems by Thomas Wyatt were set to music by Matt McMahon. It was an unusual idea to hear jazz arrangements of 16th century texts. There were lots of opportunities for instrumental and vocal solos. An interesting compositional device was the setting of the first pass of the words to a pedal point which resolved only at the end of each verse, followed by an instrumental development of the vocal melody over fuller and more dense harmonisation, and then voice and full ensemble with a second pass over the words, again fully harmonised.
The program finished with two arrangements by Eriksson by modern composers Jan Gunnar Hoff and Esbjörn Svensson, and ended with the third and fourth movements of Matt Keegan’s Elysium. This rounded the concert off nicely and the audience was clearly appreciative.
It was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon diversion.