Dallas — The Allegro Guitar Society of Dallas presented a wonderful concert on Oct. 10 at University Park United Methodist Church that covered two unique musical experiences. First is that it was a concert of lute music played by one of the best lutenists of our time: Ronn McFarlane. The second plus is that the second half the program was all music that he wrote, so not only was the music by a living composer, but the composer himself played it.
The lute is a fretted guitar-like instrument with a large round back that resembles half of a deep bowl and has more strings that the guitar. The lute, or its forefathers, has existed for thousands of years. Artwork found in Mesopotamia from 3100 B.C. depicts a woman playing such an instrument. It came into great favor in the Middle Ages as a solo instrument and as the instrument of choice for accompanying a singer.
The instrument has a bewildering number of strings (one McFarlane played had 19) and each piece required it own array of tunings. Although early lutes used a quill to pluck the strings, that was abandoned in the 1600’s in favor of using the fingers so multiple notes and musical lines could be played. This is much like the technique used to play modern guitars.
McFarlane opened his program with lute music from the 1500’s to an arrangement of a Bach suite for cello. John Dowland (1563-1626) wrote lots of magnificent music for the lute, so it was appropriate to open with his Fancy No. 5, followed by a Passacaglia by Piccinini (1566 –c.1638). Many of the pieces other were by that most prolific of composers in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Anonymous (mostly of Irish and Scottish origin).
In the second half where we heard the wide variety of effects and range of musical techniques of which the lute is capable. McFarlane’s compositions brilliantly displayed the range of the lute’s abilities.
All his pieces are like tone poems in that they describe something specific. Cathedral Cave describes a real cave that is completely underwater. Indigo Road takes us on an open Australian road that has no posted speed limit. The weather situation known as a Blue Norther, a fast-moving cold front, is familiar to us in North Texas. He ended the set with something not about anything specific, but was a popular dance form, the gigue.
When the concert was over, many of the audience members came to the off-stage area to ask McFarlane questions about both the lute and the music written for it. His two CD’s on display sold out and he gladly signed the copies for appreciative fans.
This concert repeats Thursday, Oct. 12, at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Arts Museum in the Piano Pavilion auditorium, on the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society series. Attend if you can. It is a memorable evening of music—and who knows when you’ll get to hear an accomplished lutenist again?