Precious Colours | The Marais Project

Image by Philip Pogson

The Marais Project have been busy over the last few years preparing and recording their newest studio album Australian Monody which was launched with a concert over the weekend with the band’s central three musicians joined by two special guests.

The new album ruminates on themes of love and loss with a mix of classical and contemporary works from Europe and Australia. The concert presented a variety of pieces from the album including the Marais Project’s customary compositions from Marin Marais and his 17th century contemporaries performed alongside brand new compositions from living composers like Michael Nyman, Carl Vine, and Alice Chance.

The concert took its title Precious Colours from the Chance piece of the same name which told the story of how the opal came to be through a butterfly losing its colour as told by Auntie June Barker. In this piece, the viola da gambas played by Jennifer Eriksson and Cathy Upex dominated the melody with a deep, mournful tone that added great emotional strength to the lyrics sung by soprano Susie Bishop and countertenor Russell Harcourt.

Other songs from the program had a similarly reflective mood including a piece by Isaac Nathan and arranged by Tommie Andersson with lyrics versified by Irish poet Eliza Hamilton Dunlop called “The Aboriginal Father” which the Marais Project performed earlier this year at a concert celebrating Australia’s first Swede Daniel Solander. This song about a father mourning the future for his son under British colonialism shared ties with a new piece composed by Susie Bishop during the COVID-19 lockdowns. “Lullaby for a Broken World” considered the hope and joy of raising a child in times of great fear and uncertainty. Bishop sung and played violin in the performance with support from Eriksson’s viola da gamba and Andersson on the 9-string guitar. The combination of these two unusual string instruments provided interesting tonal variety throughout the concert but particularly in this song as Bishop’s violin thinned to a whistle tone reminiscent of whale song.

Amongst these more doleful pieces, though, were lighter moods, as well, to demonstrate the mix of modes on the new album and its themes of love and loss. Some of the stand-outs were Andersson’s upbeat performance on the theorbo in the Giovanni Girolamo Kapsperger piece and the operatic vocals from Harcourt in Girolamo Frescobaldi’s “Se l’aura spira” and Bishop in Claudio Monteverdi’s “Quel sguardo sdegnosetto”. These pieces were brighter and added an atmosphere of celebration to the afternoon. And, it wouldn’t be a performance by the Marais Project without some Scandinavian folk music so this concert included two Swedish numbers with “Polska from Fu” and “Kristallen den fina” about the universal feeling of yearning for a distant lover.

The Marais Project are a group that began with a niche passion for Marin Marais that grew into a various and eclectic interest in music from around the world and across genres. This concert was another wonderful example of their flexibility as performers and their joyful engagement with the wider musical community.

Precious Colours was performed at the Independent Theatre on May 7th. For more information about the album Australian Monody, visit the Marais Project website.

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