The only thing quieter than an audience at a guitar concert is an audience at a lute concert. The beginning of lutenist Paul O'Dette's program at the University of Maryland's Tawes Recital Hall Saturday was like a secret between O'Dette and his instrument, but as people settled down, and as ears accustomed to city noises readjusted, the sound of the lute took on new authority. Its soft passages had a pure clarity, but chords at the other end of the dynamic spectrum seemed almost to roar.
O'Dette is one of a breed that is proliferating on the concert scene these days, a musical scholar who is also a dynamite showman, a careful technician and consummate musician who performs in shirt-sleeves and who relates historical anecdotes that are gems of scholarly research with folksy charm.
His program focused, as it naturally would, given the available repertoire, on music of the Italian and English renaissance. Given that all this music was written in the first half of the 17th century, it had astonishing variety. It ranged from the formally stylized and highly ornamented dance movements by Piccinini and Kapsberger and the carefully structured counterpoint of Huwet's "Fantasia" to the cheery variations on popular melodies by Byrd, Robinson and Johnson. In all of these, O'Dette seemed particularly sensitive to the dramatic impact of this music's unexpected harmonies. These composers tantalized the listener by establishing expectations and then delaying their gratification, and O'Dette was enormously successful in sustaining these effects.
Having had such a splendid demonstration of the many virtues of the lute, one can hardly wonder at the popularity it enjoyed throughout the Renaissance.