Nordic Moods and Baroque Echoes

Michelle East
9th Mar 2023

Nordic Moods and Baroque Echoes is a celebration of all things Swedish by The Marais Project and Duo Langborn/Wendel. Technical excellence is a given from musicians of this calibre. The shared curiosity and joie de vivre that made this performance such a special event. After a NSW tour together, the bonds between the groups will no doubt lead to further collaboration.

The Marais Project's mission is to perform the entire works of Marin Marais, the French viola de gamba performer and composer. They have performed more than 85% of his vast catalogue so far. It would be a mistake to presume that they are stuck in the baroque. Their dynamic repertoire extends to folk, jazz, medieval, renaissance, classical and contemporary. As well as creating fresh arrangements, they commission new work. Jenny Eriksson is founder of The Marais Project and also a founder of Elysian Fields. Focused on new work for the electric viola da gamba, Elysian Fields are an improvised jazz collective. The Marais Project for this concert are Tommie Andersson (theorbo, guitar), Susie Bishop (soprano, violin) and Shaun Ng (viola de gamba).

Duo Langborn/Wendel are Catalina Langborn and Olof Wendel. Langborn is a sought-after baroque violinist. She is concertmaster with celebrated baroque ensembles and expert on Swedish folk music. Wendel is a distinguished percussionist. He has performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestram, Gothenburg Symphony, the Royal Opera and many improvised music groups.

The connection between these two groups of innovators? Sweden. With surnames Eriksson and Andersson, there is an obvious familial pull. Eriksson’s grandfather was Swedish, and Andersson was born in Sweden. Bishop’s partner is a Swede, and she speaks and sings Swedish. The only surprise is Shaun Ng, standing in for a broken-armed Eriksson, has no connection to Sweden. The Marais Project has been introducing Australians to Scandinavian music for more than a decade.

The Sydney Conservatorium Recital Hall was the perfect venue for this recital. The beautiful acoustics of this room allowed each instrument separation and clarity. What an interesting collection of instruments! Eriksson shared why she switched from cello to the viola de gamba early in her studies. Mastering this instrument meant leaving Australia to study in Europe. Shaun Ng negated any disappointment of Eriksson being unable to play. Ng is a leading gambist and his instrument is most glamorous and melancholy.

The rare opportunity to see a cimbalom played live was a highlight for this writer. Wendel explains that he bought the travel sized cimbalom to Australia. He left the 84 kilo concert version at home this time. The cimbalom is a stringed trapezoidal box on legs with a damping pedal underneath. It’s played by striking the strings on top of the box with cotton-padded sticks. Fascinating to see it played live and with such virtuosic enthusiasm.

The Marais Project and Duo Langborn/Wendel played together as an ensemble. A true collaboration with arranging and composing duties shared by Australia and Sweden.

The concert opened with an arrangement by Andersson and Wendel of Röjås Jonas– Gråtlåten (The Crying Tune). Moves by Wendel reminded me of rock musician Warren Ellis. Låt till far arr. Andersson followed. Pers Erik Olsson wrote this in memory of his father. An emotion-laden tune played with sensitivity. Wendel arranged a traditional song Kristallen den fina (The crystal so fine). Performed with a delicate sense of longing.

Lullaby for a Broken World composed by Bishop during the 2020 Sydney covid lockdown. It is an answer to "what do we tell children when we are unsure of the future ourselves?". Beautiful and comforting with fine vocals and humming by Bishop. Straight to my sleep playlist. In contrast, three movements from Marin Marais Instrumental music from Alcione arr. Andersson/Wendel and performed like sparking repartee between courtiers.

J’avois crû qu’en vous aymant (I had thought that, in loving you) written 1703 Anon and it seems nothing has changed. The performers captured the childish disbelief of not having your amorous feelings returned. "Why do you not love me?" moans the man. Johan Helmich Roman is the father of Swedish music. His Sonate in G minor for violin is far more serious. Like a bower bird during his time in London and Europe, it is no surprise he is also known as Sweden's Handel.

Wendel described his Löv som faller (A leaf falls) as an autumn storm where all the leaves fell off the tree but one. It traces the journey of this leaf and features Wendel on the cimbalom. Up next, a traditional Swedish ballad arr. Wendel Kärestans död (Death of the beloved). The heartache of a man returning home to discover a villager has died. Balanced with a touch of no nonsense Swedish humour as he discovers the grave was that of his betrothed.

Switching pace again, Esbjörn Svensson – Pavane: Thoughts of a Septuagenarian. Svensson was pianist and founder of Swedish superstar jazz trio e.s.t. He died in his 40’s, so he never got to see if his feelings on ageing were right. As an e.s.t fan, I enjoyed the arrangement by Andersson that I felt captured more of the wisdom and less of the regret. Eriksson wrote Anna for an ill friend when she didn’t know what to say and I felt the wisdom here too.

Eriksson also arranged the following pieces. Two by Marin Marais - La Marieé and Menuet. She arranged Trad. Swedish - Glädjens blomster (The flowers of joy) while she was at Pearl Beach, so it played with a little extra sunshine. Charpentier - Sans frayeur (without fear) was surprisingly modern in its sentiment. Timas Hans Hansson arr. Andersson/Wendel Guldklimpen (The Golden Nugget) closed out a very enjoyable 90 mins.

Presented by Musica Viva Australia. The Swedish Arts Grants Committee supported Duo Langborn/Wendel for their Australian tour. Tack! With such a productive meeting of musical minds, I hope this is the first of many more collaborations.

Did you miss this tour? The Marais Project’s 2015 album Smorgasbord is an excellent consolation prize. It lives up to its name with a lively mix of baroque, folk, jazz, classical and contemporary music. Several pieces played on this tour are on this album: Gråtlåten, Låt till far, Parvane and Gullklipmenon. The CD version comes with a beautifully illustrated booklet for the full mysa experience. Available direct from The Marais Project or fine music sellers. Smorgasbord is available for download from Bandcamp or iTunes. Lullaby for a Broken World is on the album Australian Monody. It's beautiful video is on YouTube.

One for the diary if you enjoyed this concert as much as I did. 23 March Susie Bishop will be performing with Elsen Price and the Inlay Ensemble at Johnson StreetJazz. Water Poem - Anna Hueneke, a must for improvised classical music fans.