By Lawrence Budmen 

The multi-colored, subtle sound of the classical guitar is one of music’s greatest treasures. When a real master of that instrument takes center stage, the results can be magical. That is exactly what occurred on August 10 when Christopher Parkening gave an effervescent recital for the Coral Gables Congregational Church Summer Concert Series. The great Spanish virtuoso Andres Segovia brought the guitar to prominence as an instrument of serious musical expression. Indeed much of the classical guitar repertoire was composed for Segovia. Parkening was a protégé of that master. In many ways he was Segovia’s anointed successor – and rightly so.

Opening with 17th century Spanish composer Gaspar Sanz’s Passacalle y Canarios, Parkening immediately proved himself a musical magician and, more importantly, an artist of the most rarified order. Joaquin Rodrigo used thematic material from the Sanz work in his popular Fantasia Para Gentilhombre. Parkening brought gentle musicality and elegance of phrasing to this repertoire treasure. His charming, informative commentary immediately established an intimate bond with the enthusiastic audience.

Parkening proved a master of complex modernism in a sparkling version of Polish composer Alexandre Tansman’s Suite in Modo Polonico (1962). He vividly conveyed the neo-Baroque roulades of the opening Entrée and brought rhapsodic sweep to Kolysanka No.2. The spicy contemporary harmonics of the concluding Oberek (Mazurka Vive) brought out Parkening’s flashy, bravura side. 

He was no less persuasive in the snappy, toe tapping rhythms of Ballada de la Doncella Enmorada by Leo Brouwer and the avant garde patina of Astor Piazzolla’s La Muerte de Angel. Parkening brought reams of virtuosity to Piazzolla’s unique combination of Stravinsky style dissonance and tango nuevo. The guitarist conjured up a myriad variety of tonal coloration and shadings in Abel Carlevaro’s Prelude No.3 – Campo. Cavatina by Stanley Myers was a lovely lullaby, played with great tenderness and subtlety. Parkening concluded the concert’s first half with a display of virtuoso dexterity in Andrew York’s Jubilation. 

Restraint and sophistication were the hallmarks of Parkening’s performance of Prelude No.4 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, an irresistible Latin blues. In Isaac Albeniz’s Rumores de la Caleta, he vividly captured the dark Asturiana of the Spanish guitar. Rodrigo’s Calconeta (1923) was a languorous, finely etched rhapsody. Parkening was the absolute master of the Spanish classicism of Romance de los Pinos and the soft flamenco flourishes of Fandanguillo by the Spanish master Federico Moreno Torroba. 

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) was one of the 20th century’s most imaginative composers. He wrote the first modern guitar concerto (for Segovia). His Violin Concerto (written for Jascha Heifetz), song cycles, and theater and operatic works deserve revival. From his suite Platero y Yo, a collaboration with the writer and poet Juan Ramon Jimenez, Parkening offered the haunting La Arrulladora. He brought true artistry and beauty to this wonderful vignette – a tribute to this Spanish composer’s creative mastery. 

Adagio and Vivace from Sonata No.1 (1992) by Thomas Geoghegan brought to mind the folksy, Appalachian spiced music of Mark O’Connor. Parkening concluded his stellar recital with a fleet, polished performance of Koyunbaba, a charming Arabic-Moorish rhapsodic concoction by guitarist-composer Carlo Domeniconi. In this piece three guitar strings are tuned to a C-sharp minor chord. Parkening executed this daunting instrumental tour de force with verve and flair.

Christopher Parkening is that rarest of musicians – a great artist of profound sensitivity. In his hands, the classical guitar becomes a vehicle of exploration and adventure. His recital was a truly great event! 

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