Above: The striking cover of the album ‘Australian Monody’ (Move MCD633) Cover artwork by Susie Bishop, cover design by Lydall Gerlach. Featured image : The Marais Project
A recording from The Marais Project -and there are now over six of them- always promises a bold juxtaposition of music from several eras, countries and styles. Local and guest musicians play Baroque and later works in their original form and also in innovative arrangement. There are vocal and instrumental tracks and often new compositions from Australian composers as well as from The Marais Project artists themselves.
Australian Monody (Move Records MCD 633) is in keeping with this pattern of recordings. Its themes are not for the faint-hearted. The subtitle is ‘Reflections on light and darkness, love and loss’. The precise, plaintive instrumental and vocal colours associated with The Marais Project are well suited to this vibe.
We are treated across the tracks to the plaintive tone colour combinations in rotation from two viola da gambas (Artistic director Jenny Erikkson and Catherine Upex), nine-string guitar, nine-course lute and theorbo (Tommie Andersson), violin and soprano (Susie Bishop) and countertenor (Russell Harcourt).
The three interesting Antipodean monodies appearing in the first half of the recording draw on our heartstrings and conscience. Gordon Kerry’s response to the massacre by an Australian gunman at a Christchurch mosque in 2019 was commissioned for Marais Project. Its penetrating Old Testament text is delivered with clarity and poise by soprano Susie Bishop, whose violin lines are heard in effective melancholy mix with viola da gambas and theorbo.
Above: Artistic Director and founder of The Marais Project, Jenny Eriksson
Following straight on from this meditation are two songs from Sydney’s early troubled colony. The Aboriginal Father and The Aboriginal Mother are a pair of songs from a time when cruelties and violence were commonplace. Composer Isaac Nathan attempted to blend cultures, concerns and musical contours. We hear them now in a new era, and a new light, accompanied by nine-string guitar, violin and viola da gamba.
Other noticeable pairings can be found on this CD. Two songs from Henry Purcell ltake us back to he Baroque. Firstly, O dive custos Auriacae domus laments the death of British Monarch Queen Mary from smallpox . Here it features the blend of soprano and countertenor in a nicely balanced duet.
Early keyboard specialist Anthony Abouhamad joins the ensemble adding depth to the sentiments to both Purcell pieces on continuo organ. In the second Purcell song, we hear Harcourt’s fine counternor alone in the disc’s only church music inspired offering, Purcell’s homely An Evening Hymn.
To open the recording is Alice Chance’s Precious Colours, a choral work commissioned by The Marais Project . This fusion composition based on the First Nations legend of the butterfly losing its wing colourings in the snow has beauitiful intensity and elegantly rendered directness in its new guise of two vocalists and early strings.
Above : countertenor Russell Harcourt
The successful vocal blend of accomplished countertenor Russell Harcourt and Marais Project regular Susie Bishop took the roles of mythical couple Pallah-Pallah and Ballah-Ballah in this tender borrowed tale.
Paired with this piece at the album’s conclusion is the identical and equally successful vocal and instrumental ensemble for Australian composer Carl Vine’s Love Me Sweet. This song, like that of Pallah-Pallah and Ballah-ballah, emphasises the fragility of attachment, of the shades of emotion at play when in a couple. This local work,in new arrangement by Tommie Andersson, was originally destined for an Australian mini-series, ‘The Battlers’ on the Seven Network.
Preceeding Vine’s piece is John Dowland’s Now Oh Now I Needs Must Part (1597), a song of love soon to be lost . Adding to the full ensemble strength of vocalists and early strings is Tommie Andersson’s 9-course lute and touching solo moment.
Above: Tommie Andersson played early guitar, l;ute and theorbo on this recording and also arranged colonial songs by Isaac Nathan and ‘Love Me Sweet’ by Carl Vine.
From within the ranks of The Marais Project, Susie Bishop impresses as a composer, vocalist and violinist in her comforting Lullaby for a Broken World is a gentle extended instrumental encasement of the text here, featuring viola da gamba and nine string guitar.
Immediately after this comes If, from a film about the suffering and hopes of the trapped Anne Frank during WW2. Michael Nyman’s music is nicely arranged by Jennifer Eriksson for countertenor and early instruments. This is a highlight and a great showcase for The Marais Project as well asthe versatility of Harcourt as performer. His skill in interpreting a eange of text and searching tone impress here.
Two works towards the end of Australian Monody offer us the lightness of instrumental music after some dark texts. This comes in the form of an original piece composed by Jennifer Eriksson, La Petite Tarantelle reflecting her Project’s celebration of the expressive gesture of the viol and Marin Marais’ accomplished music for it.
The Marin Marais work chosen for this recording preceeds Eriksson’s nicely characterised offering. It is Marais’ Suite in A minor (Book V). Its sunny, bittersweet blend is delivered on viola da gamba and theorbo in swathes of experienced, exemplary dialogue, rounding out the recording’s keen humanity with fine, wordless music to make the spirit dance.