Noted lutenist Ronn McFarlane (cross-reference below) is already known as a master of his instrument (created by Canada’s Ray Nurse in 2000). With this wide-ranging CD his composition and orchestration skills can be sampled and appreciated. The result is a worthy addition to any collection that seldom strays off the harmonic path but serves up generous helpings of colour, craft and emotion
Of the nine non-solo lute tracks, “Overland” (an easy-going ride featuring the conversational interventions from Mindy Rosenfeld’s harp; discreetly punctuated by Danny Mallon’s percussion) and “Pinetops” (a Perpetuum mobile that swings, laced with hints of Paganini and the heady feel that could well be Deliverance II) are the early favourites. Midway, “Sycamore” (with a tad too much reverb) is an aural gem thanks to Rosenfeld’s continuously flowing flute lines and the composer’s ability to build the music and fly through some welcome rhythmic tension. Towards the end of trail “Thistleheart,” with its flute-choir factory whistles and labourer’s wails convincingly makes its industrial-age point; “Augusta” brings back an interweaving harp—its sentimental affectations somehow manage to avoid slipping into the saccharine zone. Everything is effectively anchored by James Blachly’s double bass before winding down to an emotional close which wisely eschews the too frequent tripe of a tierce.
Left to his own devices, McFarlane shares his virtuosity and compelling sense of timing and line at every opportunity. None finer than “Dowland’s Goodnight.” The love, respect and affection for the venerable composer/performer can be felt in every measure. The title track has energy to burn, barreling through the registers with hardly a misfire hindering the forward motion. Accompanied only by Blachly, “Uncharted Waters” provides a marvellous sense of discovery and exuberance before the closing section smiles with “no fear” confidence. Like the whole album, any journey into the unknown must always begin with the first step: happily, McFarlane’s road is beautifully mapped out and ready to be travelled. JWR