Andres Segovia protege Christopher Parkening might be considered the great American classical guitar exponent by now, having graced concert stages for a quarter century. At the end of a commanding performance at the Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday, Parkening noted--in one of the many emotional tributes in this, the potential closing season of this fine hall--he has played there no fewer than 20 times.
Parkening, who doesn't seem to have aged accordingly, remains a reliable, reassuring musical constant. Though not known for expanding the instrument's repertory or pushing aesthetic envelopes, he has upheld high technical and expressive standards on his instrument. That much was clear, confirmed yet again, by concert's end.
Perhaps expectedly, the glories came via mature takes on familiar works. Robert de Visee's Suite No. 9 in D minor, arranged by Segovia, is a sage vehicle for Parkening's musical gifts: his virtuosity without hubris, sensitivity to tonal variation, and measured doses of passion rising out of clarity-of-purpose rather than overstatement.
Works by Manuel Ponce, in the style of Scarlatti and baroque composer Sylvius Leopold Weiss, respectively, also complemented the guitarist's mettle. Parkening was also joined by guitarist David Brandon for seamless duet work on such turf as Thomas Geoghegan's blithe Two Spanish Folk Songs.
With Three Preludes by Villa-Lobos, Parkening unveiled a lived-in mastery, neatly capturing this music's fragile innocence and highly guitar-specific bravado. Notably, Prelude No. 4 basked in a stark ethereal beauty. Parkening on the subject of Villa-Lobos was worth the proverbial price-of-admission.
The delicate dynamics of a recital by a guitar master demand attentive ears and an acoustically-clement hall, both of which Parkening had--and deserved--this night.