Ron McFarlane

CHRISTOPHER SMITH King of Hearts, Norwich


According to the 1906 edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music, the lute was “at one time much in use, but now obsolete”. Since then, venues like the King of Hearts have done wonders bringing the instrument back into favour.

It will be harder to find a better advocate for its revival than the American Ronn McFarlane. Slight of build, though tall, bespectacled and with a trim grey beard, he played with total absorption. He said a few carefully chosen words of explanation, but throughout his recital he let his flexible fingers do the talking as he sketched patterns of sound and coloured them with delicate control of volume.

Italy, represented by Francesco da Milano, came first among the Renaissance pieces, and then France, with a catchy dance melody. England's John Dowland, as usual, was at his most persuasive in melancholy. The great surprise was a sequence of Scottish tunes from the 17th century, even by that date full of what sounded like Highland character.

Switching to the deeper toned Baroque lute, McFarlane next turned to Kellner and Weiss, composers from the age of Bach. Their chosen forms were suites of dances and nothing was more impressive than their quiet but tense sarabandes.

After enchanting an audience with period style, the soloist went on to works he had written himself. Some took the form of tributes to past masters. But he was not afraid to strike out for a markedly more modern style, too. For him, the lute is still a living force.