Move Records MCD 617
This brief CD (less than 40 minutes long) sprang out of the pandemic. Planning for 2020, the Marais Project intended to tour Tommie Andersson playing theorbo, guitar and gallichon and Jennifer Eriksson (the organization’s founder) on her trusty viola da gamba. Each would play a set of solos, then come together for a suite by the ensemble’s namesake. Sadly but predictably, the musicians encountered difficulties in getting around the country but, rather than seeing their efforts go to waste, determined to immortalise their labours through the graces of the ever-cooperative Move Records.
So here we are. Andersson’s contributions include Handel’s Sonata for a Musical Clock, arranged for the gallichon (bass lute), three guitar pieces by Jan Antonin Losy, Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica K. 536 (also re-shaped for gallichon), and participation in selections from Marais’ Books II and IV for gamba and continuo. Eriksson matches this with a D minor suite by Jacques Lambert du Buisson, the outer movements of a G Major sonata by Abel, a condensing of Paul Cutlan‘s Sarabande from the composer’s Spinning Forth suite, and the lead role in those Marais selections.
As a bonus, the CD’s final track is an anonymous love-song published in 1703: J’avais cru qu’en vous aymant. This begins with Andersson playing through the plaint solo (I think, on theorbo); Susie Bishop comes out of nowhere to add to the complex, eventually taking up her violin for a rehash of the by-now well-thumbed melody. I don’t know why the Rule of Two was broken but it’s always a pleasure to hear Bishop’s clear vocal timbre brought into play.
The Handel sonata seems to have been a two-movement affair; here, you find an Air and Minuet interposed. The pieces are slight and, despite plenty of repetitions, soon over. None of the writing goes beyond two parts, although the opening Allegro boasts a final full C Major chord. If I report that there’s little to say about any of the four parts, I’m overstating the case. Not even the timbre of Andersson’s gallichon brings a ruffle of interest to the surface.
Not much changes when Eriksson launches into the Lambert du Boisson suite. Some double-stops raise the listener’s eyebrow in the first Prelude, while the following Allemande variation follows a familiar path of one line with some cadential multi-string chords. A sarabande shows more emotional depth and the multi-string writing becomes more pronounced in the second half; the concluding courante is complex in this ambience. But the movements pass very quickly and you have only time enough to experience the movements’ shape; the gamba’s texture is finely spun – but that’s the only impression left, even after a few hearings,
Andersson plays the three guitar pieces expertly enough. The opening Prelude is another single line journey; its successor, an aria, has two independent lines – for a while; the concluding Gavote has a similar format, if quicker in tempo. As with the Handel sonata, these are flimsy constructs, and they would probably have been even more ephemeral if the repeats had been omitted. By contrast, Eriksson engages with only a few repeats and omits the central Allegro in my edition of Abel’s sonata. The performance follows a staid path with the frissons coming through some three- and four-part chords punctuating the concluding Minuet‘s progress.
Cutlan wrote his 2014 Spinning Forth suite in four movements for gamba and harpsichord, one of the commissioners being Eriksson. Its third movement, Slow and Sustained – quasi Sarabande, has been rewritten as plain Sarabande. This is one of the recording’s longer tracks – the 2nd most substantial, in fact – and I’m not sure how much rewriting has taken place. The first page of the original is the same as this new version, but I assume matters take a more radical turn at that point where the harpsichord enters in the first version. It’s a stately enough progress, very much in keeping with the other gamba content offered here, with the added charm of discordant intervals. Oddly enough, the piece doesn’t strike me as much of a sarabande but more a slow minuet, chiefly (I suppose) because the second beat gets no emphasis, large or small. Nevertheless, Eriksson’s account is full-bodied and sharply etched.
Mozart’s one-page Adagio serves an amiable purpose for its original instrument and Andersson makes a fair case for its movement to the gallichon, although this arrangement means that some of the secondary notes (lines?) go missing and most of the glass harmonica’s fragility of timbre flies out the window. The first repeat is observed; the longer second part of the piece gets a once through..
When it comes to the Marais compendium, the listener is invited into a world of some gravity; at least, at the start with a Prelude of intense grace and eloquence. A sprightly allemande follows; yes, perhaps that’s to oversell it as Eriksson lumbers through it with hefty support from Andersson. The following Air en Vaudeville/MesmeAir double begins with a downward-moving tune that has an irresistible resemblance to Joy to the world! The double is, it seems, a short variation. A sarabande is treated with high distinction, Eriksson’s melody-shaping a pleasure to experience for its supple breadth. But both players treat this brevity with respect and a keen eye for its shape.
Most of the gigues I’ve heard from Marais suites come across as fairly sober affairs, but this one is more buoyant and perky (at moments) than you’d expect. It’s still more of a tramp than a pieds-en-l’air exercise but its heftiness beguiles even to the very definite final chord. A pair of minuets proved more animated than expected, possibly because of the strength of the performers’ downbeats, but both flow past with an excellent demonstration of Eriksson’s talent at dynamic contouring. To finish, a Branle de Village is over very quickly, having just enough time to impress with its sophisticated rugosity.
The last track, that love-song, brings the Marais Project together – sort of. Bishop’s account of the first verse is accompanied only by Andersson; Eriksson then enters for her go at the tune; then all three combine for Verse 2. Bishop contributes her violin for a last instrumental recap – and that’s it. Certainly, this is a delectably melancholy conclusion to the disc and is in itself an argument for more of the same to offer a change of timbre in a collection of brief vignettes, amiable though they may be.