Christopher Parkening

by Mark Greenberg
March 2004

Christopher Parkening, guitar, and Jubilant Sykes, voice
92nd Street Y
January 24, 2004

Christopher Parkening’s previous recital at the 92nd St. Y was a tribute to Segovia. The shadow of Segovia was invoked by means of old movie footage, including one sequence that showed the maestro screaming at some poor schlub of a student. What was his sin? He probably played a chord in first position, or something equally heinous. Meanwhile, Parkening did a creepily accurate imitation of The Great Recordings, complete with patented Segovia woo-woo; it was sort of like a six-string version of The Altar of the Dead, if you know that great Henry James story.

A breath of fresh air was badly needed, and Parkening did an admirably brave job re-inventing himself on January 24, 2004. First, he has added comparatively new works such as Brouwer’s El Decameron Negro and Domeniconi’s Koyanbaba to his repertory. While Parkening is perhaps too patrician a performer to pull these off with the last degree of rhythmic and emotional energy, these were enjoyable performances — probably even more so if it was the first time one had heard them.

Even braver — and an even more superb idea — was bringing in Jubilant Sykes to share the bill. For those who don’t know of Mr. Sykes, he is very much a force of nature — an awesome bass-baritone with a supercharged stratospheric falsetto. Once heard, his voice (like that of, say, Norah Jones) becomes instantly recognizable. As Parkening admitted, he is a hard act to follow. He is also a hard act to precede — as well as a hard act to accompany.

So how did Parkening do? He was at least competent as an accompanist in some Copland songs and a few spirituals. But at one point — a flamenco number — he was inspired. He bent over his Ramirez like a blue period Picasso “old guitarist” and wailed away in a manner that would have perhaps appalled Segovia — but was in fact the high point of a memorable performance.