April 30th, 2007 5:33 pm | by Stephen Marc Beaudoin News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Whatever, Lute Dude!


"Whatever dude!"

That was the street-screech salutation which greeted lutenist Ronn McFarlane halfway through his opening set of tunes at the Broderick Gallery on April 27. It came as a cry from 1st Avenue (from an inebriated twenty-something, most likely) just as the melancholic tones of John Dowland's "Forlorn Hope Fancy" were beginning to fade.

And with that, Portland welcomed accomplished lute player Ronn McFarlane to town in his local solo recital debut, presented by Classical Millennium. An ill-feeling date required this writer to skip the second half of the program, but if the hour-long first half of Friday's concert is any indication, McFarlane is a worthy addition to the top ranks of period performance musicians in town.

Trained initially on the classical guitar, McFarlane discovered the lute in 1978 and—just as the burgeoning early music movement in America was gaining ground—quickly ascended the ranks, becoming a member of the well-respected period band The Baltimore Consort in 1979.

McFarlane's recital was notable for diversity of repertoire, expressive playing and an amiable, understated stage presence. Lightly bearded and bespectacled, McFarlane doesn't shine on stage the same way some of his more virtuosic-minded lutenist peers—Paul O'Dette or Stephen Stubbs, for example—do, but instead he offered solid, musicianly playing and pleasantly informal spoken commentary on his program.

To a set of anonymous 17th-century Scottish tunes, McFarlane brought rhythmic snap, humor and plenty of character. In lute master John Dowland's solo works, McFarlane displayed obvious feeling for the repertoire but a perhaps overly generous sense of rubato: Some of Dowland's vibrant inner dialogues became rather faint. And McFarlane's three original compositions merely recycled material that better composers have written 300 years ago, instead of adding to or commenting on it.

McFarlane's most colorful playing came in a brief "Passameze" from early French master Adrian LeRoy. As a sort of pop-song technical etude, McFarlane lavished Beyoncé-worthy roulades on LeRoy's affecting tune.

Classical Millennium still has some kinks to work out in its series at the Broderick. Instead of choosing to cap the audience size, they've chosen to stuff as many bodies as possible into the smallish space. Not only was the room ungodly warm by half-time, it was also near impossible to navigate without sacrificing a row-mate's toes. And even only two rows back, it was difficult to make out McFarlane's fingers and face—although in a gallery space where the other clear objective is hawking art, perhaps that was the point.
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