UC Presents opens 2017 with a delightful afternoon of lute music

Chicago Classical Review

Rare is the opportunity to hear two of the greatest living players of an instrument play together. And rarer still when the instrument is as scarce as the lute.

Just such an opportunity was afforded Sunday at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, where the University of Chicago Presents series offered an afternoon of two-lute music played by Paul O’Dette and Ronn McFarlane.

The risk, of course, in such a concert is that the audience will find the music too homogenous. Any dedicated classical concertgoer can be counted on to appreciate the subtle differences between, say, two fugues by Bach or two sonatas by Beethoven. But between two fantasias by Renaissance lute composers they’ve probably never heard of?

So, even more laudable than O’Dette and McFarlane’s mastery of their instruments was the intelligence of their programming, particularly their maximization of variety.

The program’s two halves were each devoted to music of a different country: the first to Italy, and the second to England. The component pieces of the halves seemed chosen specifically to accentuate the differences between these two national styles. The Italian music was more cerebral: mazes of imitative counterpoint and extravagant ornaments. The English works were folksier: the melodies more tuneful, the textures more chordal, and the rhythms friskier.

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