Mara meets Marais (MMMP001) Directed by Mara Kiek and Jennifer Eriksson. Dur.53’29”

This is an unexpected mix of instruments, styles and eras, brought together by the personal chemistry of the performers, and their sense of the common factors in the music of a remarkably diverse programme. It combines medieval, renaissance and baroque music from England, France and Spain. The instruments are from the same eras: baroque (bass viol, theorbo) renaissance (lute) medieval (gittern) and modern (double bass) together with some percussion. The two singers, Mara Kiek with her well-known and very compelling chesty declamation of the medieval songs, is joined by soprano Belinda Montgomery, who has a more conventional technique, with a clear, true sound, beautifully in tune, with a light vibrato. Anachronisms abound, and are embraced with glee by the performers. As the booklet notes put it, they aim to share the music they love rather than seek authenticity. In recent times, this word has become almost a derogatory term, implying a lack of sincerity, yet why else would one play a lute, viol, or seek a different vocal timbre unless one was seeking authenticity. Perhaps a better way of expressing it is that these are all performers with a long history of experience and passion for the music of these eras, and are using this experience to set themselves free in their expression of the music.

Members of Mara! and The Marais Project

All are very accomplished performers, and bring an easy assurance to each item in the programme. Dowland’s ‘Now o now’ uses the 4-part vocal tenor and bass to add to the lute accompaniment for some verses. The Marais F major suite from the fifth book has a double bass added to the accompaniment. There is a lovely elevation motet by Pierre Bouteiller, a contemporary of Couperin, in which the very stylish soprano of Belinda Montgomery is accompanied by theorbo and two bass viols. Completely new to me, and I’m supposed to know about French music of that period. The songs of the 13th century Portuguese Martin Codax take up the latter half of the recording, and are the most satisfying unity. Here the players are free to improvise – with the lute, viol and double bass introducing ideas which are sometimes medieval, sometimes almost jazzy, but with a unified approach which supports Mara Kiek’s compelling declamation. Every now and then, in a refrain, she and Belinda Montgomery sing in octaves, beautifully tuned, and a lovely contrast in sound. Authentic? Who cares. Does it hold together? Not for me, but an enjoyable recording.

Review by Robert Oliver – Australian Viola da Gamba Society Newsletter, Issue 46-47, Spring 2011 & Summer 2012.  Used with Permission