John Dowland's mischievous little piece, "My Lord Chamberlain, His Galliard," was composed nearly four centuries ago, but it could have been designed with Allison Hampton and Lynn Barnes in mind. It is basically a musical dialogue (between high and low voices) for two lutanists who have only one lute. To make it sound right, the statuesque Hampton must stand behind Barnes, put her arms around him and play the treble strings of his lute while he plays the bass. The fact that he is able to concentrate on the music in such cuddly circumstances betokens an almost superhuman dedication to his art.
Dowland would have been the highlight of last night's concert by the duo-lutanists in Gaston Hall at Georgetown University if they had not concluded the program with the composition by Barnes, "Saltarello Pour Une Belle Dame De'sespe're'ee," which echoed the basically Renaissance style of most other works on the program but was even more brilliant. For this one, as for the rest of the program, the two players had separate chairs and separate lutes. The audience had to be satisfied with beautiful music devoid of visual comedy -- but that was quite enough for full satisfaction.
The basic motif of the evening was established by the opening number, "Echo," by Francis Pilkington, in which one lute ripples out graceful phrases and the other repeats them--a simple idea made delightful in performance by precision of timing and accents. Except for Vivaldi (whom they played in a transcription), few of the composers on the program are household names. This music is almost never heard because, frankly, you don't run into duo-lutanists all that often. And it is, on the whole, entertaining rather than great music. But in the hands of these expert players, entertainment rises to the level of high art.