THE MARAIS PROJECT : A BASS AFFAIR @ SYDNEY CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC

Above: Soprano Josie Ryan and Tommie Andersson – lutes, baroque guitar and theorbo.                     Featured image : Jennifer Eriksson, viola da gamba and Tim Blomfield, bass violin.

Any concert event from The Marais Project is joyous as well as being a richly educational and diverse entertainment. ‘A Bass Affair’ at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music celebrated this tradition and historically informed performance goals. Gambist Jennifer Eriksson once more assembled early music performers of high calibre and nicely contrasted music from the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries.

The music was presented for us using a wealth of timbres from the combination of guest Tim Blomfield’s bass violin, Jennifer Eriksson’s viola da gamba, Josie Ryan’s soprano voice, and from Tommie Andersson playing no less than two lutes, baroque guitar and theorbo.

An exciting part of this concert was the first time collaboration at a Marais Project concert of Eriksson’s viola da gamba and Blomfield’s bass violin. The two instruments blended keenly and helped highlight the character and communicative strengths of each other’s musical identity so popular in French musical history.

A satisfying element of the programme was the inclusion of Suite in B flat major by Marais, continuing the Marais Project’s raison d’être of progressively performing all of the master composer’s oeuvre in concert or recording. As Jennifer explained, this work was especially suited to the instrumentation of gamba and bass violin.

As well as offering this Marais suite, ‘A Bass Affair’ treated us to a variety of vocal tone colours and a pleasing dramatic layer concerning the trials of romantic love, familiar even in the twenty first century. Josie Ryan’s direct and entertaining introductions to vocal music were complemented by her expertly characterised delivery of all French text.

A pair of single songs, ‘J’avais cru qu’en vous aimant’ (Christopher Ballard) and ‘Sans frayeur’ (Marc-Antoine Charpentier) were added to the instrumental textures early in the concert. Monteclair’s
secular cantata, ‘Le Triomphe de la Constance’ was heard later. It followed the plight of lovers in what modern parlance would describe as an “it’s complicated” situation, and was heard later. This performance, which was full of elegance and passion, was very sympathetically and colourfully accompanied by the ensemble, as were the two songs heard previously.

An enlightening and sumptuous interlude of lute music occurred when multi-instrumentalist Tommie Andersson presented a solo sonata work for the gallichon, a species of lute. As with other multi-movement works in the concert, contrasts of dance styles or instrumental forms were nicely rendered in this consistently beautiful sonata, the Sonata No 5 for Gallichon by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello.

A definite highlight of this programme of delights would have to be the chance for us to hear the viola da gamba and bass violin in duet. This came in the form of a performance of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier’s Sonata No 5 in A minor (from Sonates à Deux Violes). The two instruments blended extremely well together, despite their separate and contrasting construction and individuality of
voice.

These instruments and their enthusiastic exponents brought the music of this contemporary of Marais to life and gave us an exciting and illuminating soundscape. It was also an indication of the
vibrant approach to composition and communication that these historic instruments afforded French composers at this time.

Hopefully the musicianship and historical performance sensitivity of Tim Blomfield (of group Salut! Baroque fame) can be present in future Marais Project concerts. The Marais Project’s Jenny Eriksson next
performs at The Independent Theatre, North Sydney on October 21 at 3.30pm, with the visiting ‘Evergreen Ensemble’ from Melbourne.