Indigo Road – Original Lute Music – Ronn McFarlane, lute; with quintet plus string quartet – Dorian DSL-90701 54:05 *****:
I was going to say this was one of the most attractive early music CDs I’ve enjoyed in some time, but it’s not really an early music CD. The lute – derived from the Arabic oud – is one of the most ancient of string instruments and had thousands of selections written for it up to its falling out of favor around 1800. Ronn McFarlane returns to the practice of those times in blurring the division between composer and performer. Reviving the tradition of the lutenist-composer he has created new pieces which often bridge the separations between classical, folk and popular music. Many lute pieces of the period were sort of the crossover selections of their time anyway.
Originally McFarlane tunes were created as works for solo lute, but over time he added parts for doublebass, flute, harp, percussion, cittern and harmonium. Those are heard in about every other of these 16 tracks, in various combinations. On a few tracks a string quartet is also added to the ensemble. An example of McFarlane’s approach might be Dowland’s Goodnight. Goodnights were written in Elizabethan times upon the death of a person. McFarlane used portions of a theme by Dowland, the best-known composer-lutenist of the period, giving it a sad and brooding character similar to much of Dowland’s music. Other selections sound like improvisations on a folk tune, a couple with a Scottish flavor. There is even one that works up to a rousing bluegrass-like conclusion.
Lute music usually has struck me as too subdued and quiet to gain my attention. Although more expressive than a guitar, it requires close attention to appreciate its gentle possibilities. That is odd because I’m willing to listen closely to the clavichord, which is similar in its quieter relationship to the piano as the lute is to the guitar. Dorian’s clean and rich recording quality helps here, as well as the interesting arrangements and the fact these are original contemporary compositions. Even on the tracks without the contributions of the doublebass, the bass end of the lute comes thru strongly – perhaps more than would a solo standard guitar.
[Note: We are giving away a dozen of this disc, plus a companion CD from Dorian, to 12 Audiophile Audition readers who register this month. See Home Page and Editorial Page.]
TrackList: Cathedral Cave, Indigo Road, Denali, Overland, Pinetops, Blue Norther, Chocolate Factory, Rosa, Uncharted Waters, Sycamore, Dowland’s Goodnight, Early Christmas Morning, Gigue, Thistleheart, Over this Green Earth, Augusta.
– John Sunier