It is such a disappointment when a musician touted as a "Great Artist" turns out to be less than his or her reputation. Unfortunately, such was the case with guitarist Christopher Parkening in his performance on Wednesday October 10 as part of Duke's Great Artists series. Parkening played what promised to be an unusual and interesting program of twentieth century guitar works. Most of it was neither interesting nor well played.
Parkening had chosen a multi-national program, including works from Turkey, Poland, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Italy and the United States. His selections avoided the stylistic "isms" of the last century, veering away from atonality, jarring dissonant harmonies or asymmetrical rhythm and phrasing. As a result, it was all pretty tame fare. That being said, we were hoping at least to be caught up in a wash of melody, but Parkening managed to derail that expectation as well.
The most annoying aspect of the concert was Parkening's tendency to make brief pauses between - and in the middle of - musical phrases, thereby destroying the melodic and rhythmic flow of the musical line. Perhaps it is a deliberate interpretive decision, perhaps an affectation, but all in all it sounded more like sheer hesitation while he thought about where next to place his fingers. Oddly enough, this tendency manifested itself not in pieces with a high degree of technical difficulty, but rather in the more lyric numbers. And while we were unfamiliar with many of the works, we were certain there were a fair number of wrong notes to boot.
Some works worked better than others. Parkening gave a touching performance of Stanley Myers's Cavatina, dedicating it to the victims of September 11. Also interesting and well performed were the two segments from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Platero y Yo. The most technically challenging work on the program, Koyunbaba, a work exploiting Turkish modes and harmonies by Italian composer Carlo Domeniconi, came off as an exciting finale to a drab program.
On the other hand, Preámbulo & Allegro vivo by Manuel Ponce, written in 1931 in kahootz with Andrés Segovia as a "musical escapade" and passed off as a newly discovered work by Alessandro Scarlatti, was neither very authentic sounding, nor well played. It is puzzling that this work passed as authentic for many years; it shouldn't have fooled even a beginning music student (or were those odd harmonic progressions just wrong notes?) The encore, a bizarre arrangement of Simple Gifts, owed little to Copland and even less to its Shaker origin.