Virtuoso flamenco guitarist Paco Peña plays a rare date at the Metropolitan, Getintothis’ Paul Riley reflects on a genuine one off.
Paco Peña may well be the best living flamenco guitarist. Given that flamenco, at its best, combines myriad playing styles with percussive elements as well as a range of oddly-accented and unconventional time signatures, he is surely in with a fair shout of being one of the greatest ever exponents of the six string, regardless of genre.
A chance to see a bonafide virtuoso is not one that comes along often, and that was evident in the number of people who squeezed onto the pews of the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral for a rare performance from the flamenco maestro.
The opening section of the performance consisted of Peña, first solo and then with two other guitarists, showcasing the various different forms and traditions of flamenco, each of which has a distinctive feel and can call for anything from a single guitar, to an ensemble of guitar (toque), singers (cantaors), dance (baile) and handclaps (palmas).
The second part of the evening was a performance of Requiem for the Earth. First performed in 2004, Peña fused the structure of a Southern Spanish requiem mass with the passion of flamenco music. Normally a service of remembrance and prayer for the salvation of souls on judgement day, Peña has used the requiem as a lament for life on earth, a reflection of the destructive relationship between man and the planet. It is an epic piece of music, with numerous guitarists, four incredible flamenco singers and two choirs, in this case Liverpool’s Sense of Sound and the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir.
Throughout the evening, the space itself helped to create some truly incredible moments. Given the right sounds, a cathedral can give you goosebumps. The vocal soloists, the beautifully coloured guitar passages and the massive sound of two choirs were very special things to witness.
Such huge spaces do come with their sonic challenges. Cathedrals are not friends to percussion of any type, and the intricate handclaps, guitar taps, djembe and cajon unfortunately fell foul of the natural reverb. Where there was space and silence in the music, the audience held its breath as the sound took on an ethereal air. When the music should have been vibrant, frenetic and impassioned, it rattled around the cathedral like a twenty-gun salute.
As this show was moved to the cathedral due to the refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall, some leeway can be given, but the choice of alternative venue caused major issues that detracted from the music. Moments of brilliance abounded, with all performers at the top of their game. Sadly the sound issues provided disappointment, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth after what was, for some in the audience, a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Walking down those Cathedral steps at the end of the show, our overriding emotion was of regret at how good this could have sounded in the splendour of a freshly refurbished Philharmonic Hall.