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Parkening, Sykes Pay Visit to 'Braziliana'


Guitar and voice make a natural combination, but one seldom picked up by more classically oriented performers, despite a substantial and intriguing literature. Hometown heroes Christopher Parkening and Jubilant Sykes made a convincing case for the pairing in a spirited and broadly satisfying recital Saturday at Royce Hall.

Of course, their "Braziliana" program did draw heavily on music with strong vernacular roots, Brazil in this case being more a state of mind than of geography. "Music of Brazil and the Americas" was the subtitle, and it took in tango, spirituals and even flamenco.

Sykes is a charismatic baritone of multifarious resources, a powerful and welcome presence in Bach and Mozart. Here he was as much a vocal character actor as he was a singer, lavishing falsetto croons, fluttering jazz rasps, pitched speech, fey humming and rolling operatic plangency on everything--sometimes all on a single word, it seemed.

Overkill was a real risk, but for the most part it worked, from the virtuoso patter--in Portuguese--of "Boi-Bumba" to the deeply personalized spirituals "City Called Heaven" and "Were You There?" Best, perhaps, of a very fine lot were the Modinha from Villa-Lobos' Seresta No. 5 and a hauntingly liquid Lamento by Rique Pantoja.

Parkening supported Sykes handsomely, crisp and pertinent in the Brazilian accompaniments. He struggled a bit in "Were You There?" with its unidiomatic writing and clunky modulations but was otherwise assured in a partnership that has been maturing for several years.

He also opened each half with extended and varied solo sets. He played powerfully throughout, though mostly in a bright, bass-dominated sound with a tight, brittle treble. He was particularly persuasive in the high-energy blockbusters, including Marco Pereira's ebullient "Bate-coxa" and Andrew York's driving "Jubilation."

Parkening and Sykes took separate encores, and each made it a climactic rather than valedictory statement. The guitarist's steeliest twang was quite appropriate in Carlo Domeniconi's relentless "Koyunbaba," played with amazing precision. The singer inhabited the spiritual "Witness" with mesmerizing conviction and remarkable agility of both character and technique.

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