Championing the most iconic instrument of the early music period is not an easy task. Add the sweltering heat of mid-June and the small, dry-wall design of the Loper Chapel and soon what promised to be an intimate lute-focused concert, In the Garden So Green felt more restrictive and unsettled—lute as it decries its own worth and relevance in the 21st century.
This was an unexpected effect, given the concert’s impressive turnout, and perhaps the work of its commander, David Tayler. Tayler’s mastery over the instrument at Saturday’s Fringe event etched a blend of Scottish sounds—seasoned, admittedly, with instances of the harp—with more decor than what might have been intended by the composers themselves. Other times, his flourishes and Spanish-like ornamentation insolently turned the instrumentalist from wandering troubadour to early music’s version of redneck minstrel. The pieces flirted with being too metallic, too thwacking, too twangy; and left the sonorous aftertaste one might have hearing a tuning tool as it slowly drops inside a piano: pretty, robust, but a little odd.
But this review is a positive one. Despite it all, Tayler created the intimate setting demanded of a post-lunch lute concert and captivated his audience to such a degree that it willing sat in closed and silent session while temperatures rose to the point of intrusion. And there were some inviting surprises in interpretations of Fortune My Foe, Lachrimae Antiquae Pavan, and other such Dowlanditties. Tayler’s battle between sensibility and sensation, old and modern, revered and popular mirrored much of the early music era itself. Romance, expressiveness, and new muted by the unseen force of tradition. If his lute be a woman: “She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.”