What’s not to love about an hour of delightful C18th French music on a Sunday afternoon, followed by a glass of complimentary wine and the chance to schmooze with the musicians and fellow concert goers? And especially when the performers are at the top of their art form. Jenny Eriksson, the doyen of viol da gamba playing in Sydney and committed since 2000 to presenting Marais’ complete viol repertoire (no mean feat – he churned out several hundred and Eriksson has performed close to 90% of them) teamed with Tommie Andersson (theorbo and baroque guitar), Mikaela Oberg (traverso), Anthony Hamad (harpsichord), and Anna Sandstrom (soprano) in an all French program featuring baroque flute in most items. Despite the competing Sunday attractions, a good sized crowd attended and were full of compliments at the conclusion. And rightly so!
The program centred on works by five prominent early C18th French composers: Jean-Marie Leclair, Louis-Nicholas Clerambault, Joseph Boismortier, Andre Campra, and of course Marin Marais. Leclair was our program opener – despite two disastrous marriages and coming to a rather sticky end at the hands of wife #2, he left a significant body of work, mainly for violin. The ensemble presented a delightful four movement piece featuring harpsichord, theorbo, viol, and flute. Leclair travelled across Europe, working part of each year in Holland, and his music incorporates the European styles he was exposed to. His Trio Sonata No. VIII was a perfect opener – light and almost delicate in parts, with some lovely fugue-type interplay between viol and traverso which Oberg played with confidence and expressive dynamics.
Anna Sandstrom joined the continuo players in the Clerambault and again in the final number by Campra, where the full complement of players performed. Clerambault was primarily an organist but also studied voice, and as a choir master developed the genre of the French cantata of which he was considered the master.
Sandstrom’s soprano voice is beautifully suited to this repertoire. She sings with great expressiveness and has the ability to connect the audience with the music. Her introductory explanation of what the songs were about was very helpful. In the Campra the interplay between voice and flute was wonderful – balanced, and well blended, one playing off of the other at times. It is to be hoped that the Marais Project will find further opportunities to include Anna Sandstrom in future programs.
The Boismortier provided a great opportunity for traverso player Mikaela Oberg to show off the versatility of the instrument as well as her own technical excellence. Boismortier was a prodigious composer and wrote some of his flute music for the great player Blavet. A contemporary, marvelling at his output, famously commented “Happy be Boismortier whose fertile pen can give birth without pain to a whole new book of pieces of music every month” To which the composer responded that he was at least earning a lot of money, unlike many musicians at the time! His Ciquieme Suite is typically C18th French, to be played with elegance and grace, and incorporating dance music such as the bouree and gigue. The third movement, a Fantasie for solo traverso, was superbly played by Oberg, and one of the highlights of the program.
The Marais item was ‘early Marais’ – Pieces in A major with two movements. Jenny Eriksson advised us to listen for a well known tune in the first movement – sure enough, a tune akin to the opening of God Save The Queen came through. Perhaps the Brits borrowed it from the French in 1745, when it seems to have first emerged as an anthem! As always Eriksson made the most difficult fingering, and the demanding fast-moving runs of Marais look so playable.
While neither Tommie Andersson or Anthony Hamad had solo or showy passages, their reliable continuo playing provided the solid basis for the flights of fancy of singer, traverso, and viol. Both theorbo and harpsichord are often rather overshadowed in larger ensembles – it can be difficult to pick them out – but in this setting both shone through loud and clear and could be enjoyed within the mix of sound.
I am always reminded after concerts such as this how lucky Sydney music lovers are with the access we have to top quality music. All five performers have a strong academic background in their instrument, as well as extensive overseas experience studying and playing with some of the best. Under the curating of Jenny Ericksson the Marais Project continues to present unusual and engaging programs of first rate quality. Watch for their 2017 program announcement and mark the dates in your diary.