Lady Sings the Viol: 700 Years of Songs for Voice & Viols

The Marais Project, Jennifer Eriksson director
Classical, Contemporary, Early Music, New Music, Popular
Reviewed by , April 25th, 2014

Despite radical changes in composition processes in the last two hundred years and the introduction of electronic instruments and recording, Western orchestral instrumentation has changed relatively little. We accept it as normal to play musics from a very broad range of genre and period on our ‘modern’ orchestral instruments. However, ‘pre-modern’ instruments, such as those represented on this recording, are often relegated to the playing of ‘period’ music.

Nevertheless, with the rise in interest in Historically Informed Performance through the twentieth century, the ‘new’ textures and timbres made possible with the instruments of earlier times was of great interest to composers and many pieces have been written incorporating all manner of instrumental combinations.

The Marais Project 9left to right): Jennifer Erikkson, Belinda Montgomery, Tommie Andersson, Catherine Upex, photo by Suzie Mitchell

The Marais Project 9left to right): Jennifer Erikkson, Belinda Montgomery, Tommie Andersson, Catherine Upex, photo by Suzie Mitchell

Although the primary area for exploration for The Marais Project has been the music for viols of French composer of the late Baroque Marin Marais and his contemporaries, two of their previous three CDs have included newly composed works.

This gorgeous CD takes the extended ensemble in a different direction. From a spread of 700 years, director Jennifer Eriksson has selected a broad range of short songs and instrumental pieces. The ensemble she has gathered includes a number of singers and multi-instrumentalists, many of whom are regular Marais Project collaborators. The singers are Megan Cronin, Narelle Evans, Mara Kiek, Belinda Montgomery and Nocole Thomson. The string players are Jennifer Eriksson, Imogen Granwall, Shaun Ng, Catherine Upex, Daniel Yeadon and Fiona Ziegler. These are supplemented by the various plucked strings of Tommie Andersson, Alex Cronin and Llew Kiek, and the percussion of Jess Ciampa.

The sound of the viol has been described variably as rich, raw, nasal, sweet, powerful . . . the combination of gut strings, flat back, frets, no sound post, little vibrato, different bow and bowing technique produce a radically different sound to that of the modern violin family. However, like the modern instruments, the viol has an even tone across its tessitura and is capable of producing a broad dynamic range. This leaves the instrument open to playing really anything you can imagine. The Marais Project tests this with pieces of radically different cultures and periods.

The CD was conceived as a ‘covers band’ collection of songs. Each has a story, and includes two songs made famous by Edith Piaf, a tango from Elena Kats-Chernin, a song by Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones, and the famous Cavatina (She Was Beautiful), alongside baroque works by Marais, John Bull and Juan Arañés. The collection closes with an arrangement of Chattanooga Choo Choo, played by a viol ensemblenot something you are likely to have ever heard before on CD!

Stand-out pieces include Schubert’s Ave Maria sung exquisitely by Belinda Montgomery, the early 14th century English song Bryd one Brere sung by Mara Kiek, and the haunting instrumental Swedish fiddle tune Låt till Far.

Recording and production is in the skillful hands of Llew Kiek, who renders the recording detailed yet spacious.

This CD is a joy to listen to, challenging notions of suitable repertoire for period instruments — highly recommended!


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