A celebration of The Marais Project and Rameau
In celebration of its 15th Anniversary, Baroque chamber group The Marais Project, headed by viola da gamba player Jennifer Eriksson, presented a fitting concert in memory of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s death 250 years ago.
The Marais Project was formed in the year 2000 by Jennifer with the ultimate aim of performing the complete viola da gamba works of French composer Marin Marais.
The viola da gamba is a string instrument about the size of a cello but has 6 or 7 strings instead of 4, is held between the knees without a spike, & the bow is used “underhand”.
Celebrating works spanning centuries
The concert program included pieces for various combinations of voice at both ends of the spectrum & instruments, as well as the world premiere of a moving (both literally & figuratively speaking) piece called Mathematics in Motion written by 20 year old guest composer Alice Chance who was inspired by the work & philosophy of Rameau.
Full crowd, buzzing and learning
The compact City Recital Hall West in The Conservatorium was full by the time the concert started with a lively but controlled performance of Rameau’s Pieces de clavecin en concerts “Deuxieme concert” or Second Concert Piece for Harpsichord. The trio consisted of Jennifer on viola da gamba, Fiona Ziegler playing violin with a Baroque bow, & Raymond Harvey on harpsichord. The contrasting movements, combining both spirited melody & harmony, were stately, lyrical, & passionate, as Rameau would have intended.
Jennifer provided the audience with some background information on most of the pieces throughout the concert.
Jennifer & Ray were joined by Belinda Montgomery soprano & Tommie Andersson who alternated between theorbo & Baroque guitar in the second work, a Cantata called L’Impatience by Rameau. Belinda’s diction was difficult to assess without the customary lyrics in French in the program notes, only a translation into English being provided. She captured the mood of the piece well but I found some disconcerting lack of projection of notes in her lower register.
The theorbo is a bass lute with a very long string extension resulting in very low notes. It supported the harpsichord continuo by providing a single line with different colours. The Baroque guitar was a cute-looking instrument like a giant-sized ukulele!
The third work was Tombeau pour Marais de Cadet from Book V of Marais’ Pieces de viole, a piece written for a recently deceased person. This time Fiona played the tenor viol, Jennifer the bass viol or viola da gamba, & Tommie provided the harmony on theorbo. Unusually, the top melody line was played by the bass viol while the middle line was played by the tenor viol. It was indeed most elegant & sorrowful, befitting the occasion of mourning.
I was beginning to wonder at this point in the concert that the viola da gamba really was a sensitive instrument if it constantly needed prolonged tuning like it did, including between movements within a piece, when Jennifer apologised for all the necessary tuning!
Alice Chance’s new work a fitting tribute to Rameau
Alice Chance’s modern piece played on authentic instruments, the harpsichord & viola da gamba, provided a most interesting paradox of sound but the mix of old instruments playing new music was very harmonious. It started in quite a Baroque-like manner, then became more like New Music, ending with a pure melodic line by the viola da gamba, a most fitting tribute to Rameau.
The harpsichord at this concert had 2 keyboards or manuals that produced lovely variations in tone & volume.
A pleasant relaxing afternoon
The final work in the program was a most expressive Cantata “Thetis” by Rameau, sung by baritone David Hidden & supported by Fiona on violin, Jennifer, Ray, & Tommie this time on Baroque guitar. There is something I find alluring about the lowest register of the human voice. David’s facial expression more than matched his vocal expressiveness! His voice was clear & powerful, the music beautifully phrased, & a most pleasing way to end a pleasant relaxing afternoon.
The audience was offered a complimentary glass of wine & given the chance to mingle with the musicians & guest composer after the concert.
The Marais Project have so far performed just over 80% of Marais’ viola da gamba works, a fantastic effort. Keep it going!
Photo credit Natasha Civijovski via The Marais Project on Facebook.