British composer Joanna Marsh lives a life of interesting intersections. Born in 1970, since 2007 has divided her time between Dubai and the UK. Intersecting time as well as space, Marsh has a keen interest in Tudor and Elizabethan music, reflected in works written for Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where she was an organ scholar and later composer in residence from 2015 to 2020.
One such work is Martha and Mary, scored for six-part choir and viol consort. Opening with a quote from one of Byrd’s elegies for the college founder Philip Sidney, Marsh contrasts the soft graininess of the viols with carefully spaced vocal groupings to tell the biblical story of the two sisters, her use of dissonance subtly shifting to a more contemporary feel as the work progresses.
A Tudor flavour also permeates the wonderfully evocative St Paul’s Service, a setting of Evensong canticles written for girls’ voices, where echoes of evening services past coalesce with edgier harmonies, creating a cohesive and convincing whole. A later arrangement of the organ part for viols (heard here) only enhances a strong feeling of encountering the past and the present simultaneously.
Beyond Marsh’s interest in early music, her other works display a colourful breadth of expression, as evidenced in the extended anthem Santifica nos or the haunting carol Evergreen. A more modernist voice is revealed in the organ chorale prelude Mensch, willst du leben seliglich, played by Martin Baker and Ottomania for organ and viols.
Fine performance and production values make for a rewarding musical encounter with this distinctive intersection of ancient and modern.
Composer: Joanna Marsh
Works: Works for Choir, Organ & Viol Consort
Performers: Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Fretwork, David Skinner
Label: Resonus RES10283