Adding a Twist to Classic Holiday Fare

Monday, December 22, 2008

Guitarist Christopher Parkening and baritone Jubilant Sykes joined forces at George Mason University's Center for the Arts on Saturday night to present an intimate and informal holiday concert infused with traditional carols, patriotic tunes and moving spirituals.

Sykes's hypnotizing, cinnamon-spiced baritone initially sounded a bit hoarse. But he quickly improved and refreshed oft-heard carols with a half-whispered note here, a tapered phrase there, a final hum that clung, shimmered and faded. But it was in the spirituals "Witness" and "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," and in Valdemar Henrique's Latin dance-song "Boi Bumbá," where he best displayed his vocal strength, versatility and expression.

Parkening told the audience that he had recently restrung his instrument and that its tuning was unpredictable for Aaron Copland's "Simple Gifts," which requires a string tune-down midway through. He executed it well, but kept fiddling with the guitar's tuning -- sometimes while playing -- for half the concert.

Parkening's improvisatory, introspective playing worked to his advantage in Carlo Domeniconi's Turkish folk music-influenced "Koyunbaba" ("The Shepherd") but didn't always jell with Sykes's musical interpretations. Still, the two pulled off an enjoyable recital, sending listeners off with a breathtaking, subdued rendition of "Silent Night."

-- Grace Jean

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