in: Reviews

February 15, 2013

Celebrity Karadaglić at Longy

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Miloš Karadaglić  in file photo

Miloš Karadaglić in file photo

At thirty, guitarist Miloš Karadaglić has joined the superstar one-names—Madonna, Cher, and Midori—and is now simply Miloš. Handsome, fit, and photogenic, his first CD, The Guitar/Mediterréo, sold over 150,000 copies. He is being hailed as the new hero of the guitar, has a recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon, and was presented as such in the Celebrity Series of Boston Debut Series on both Wednesday and Thursday nights at Longy.

To these ears the evening did not begin auspiciously. Karadaglić began J. S. Bach’s marvelous Suite in C minor, BWV 997, and, as he admitted before the second set, this was only the second time he had played it in public. It sounded tentative at times, very laid back at others. This was generic-sounding Bach, almost Bach Lite, more suitable for background music than a major concert hall in Boston.

The Suite is a piece I’ve loved for 40 years since I heard it on a record with Osian Ellis playing it brilliantly on the harp. Sharon Isbin recorded it on guitar, and set the bar very high with her performance. This was Bach without pizzazz, rhythmic propulsion, musical intrigue Karadaglić explained, quite bizarrely, “Although Bach loved the suite very much, he couldn’t play it.  That’s why sometimes we have too many notes.”  What?! The form of this suite is most unusual, beginning with a Prelude followed by an extremely long fugue. Next a stately Sarabande occurs, which gave Karadaglić a chance to show off his occasionally over-elaborate ornamenting chops. A Gigue and its virtuosic Double end this work which guitarists have appropriated as their own (in the more comfortable key of A minor)—and no wonder. Its chromaticism makes it Pedal Hell on the harp, but a few brave people play it, usually with a missing fugue.

Karadaglić spoke, or warmed up the audience, after the Bach, and mentioned that just before the concert “I managed to split a nail.”  During intermission a guitarist came to his rescue with a temporary solution, but I still think the Bach, while a great program opener for most, was a bad choice for this particular instrumentalist whose interpretive gifts clearly lie elsewhere.

From the moment, Karadaglić began his set of four pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos, a far more confident musician emerged. Karadaglić’s playing sparkled the rest of the evening, and seemed to be enjoying himself musically as well as tour guide to the pieces he was about to play. But why do musicians so frequently felt the need to engage an audience by talking when there are perfectly good program notes?  Am I the only listener who feels this is part of a dumbing down of the classical music experience?

Prelude No. 1 by Villa-Lobos, from his lyrical last guitar work, the Five Preludes (1940) has its melody in the tenor voice, (played on the guitar’s fourth or fifth string) as does Etude No. 11 from his Twelve Etudes (1928).  Despite Villa Lobos’s love for the guitar and his ability to play it, his training as a cellist shows up here in cello-like tunes.  Etude 11, with its throbbing repeated note accompaniment and Etude 12 with its sliding chords, chromatic outbursts and tremolos in the bass were composed for Andrés Segovia, who called the etudes unplayable. Karadaglić proclaimed Etude No. 12 an “etude in crazy-tremendous fun to play.” The program notes are charming here: “Not all guitarists would agree, but Segovia’s feelings are understandable: only twenty years after the polite salon miniatures of Francisco Tárrega, this music would have landed on Segovia’s desk like a wild and terrifying Amazonian bird.” All of the Villa Lobos pieces were compellingly and beautifully performed, but the Valse Choro gave the biggest hint as to why Karadaglić  has an enviable reputation.

After intermission, Karadaglić  quipped, “It’s always a relief when the audience returns.” Well, at most of the seats going for fifty dollars a pop and such fabulous P.R., why not stay?  None of the pieces on the second half was known to me or, I suspect, to other non-guitarists, but the quiet, hypnotic Milonga that develops into a tango-like piece by the Argentian composer Jorge Cardoso (b. 1949) was among the best and the most deftly played (It’s on  Karadaglić /Youtube, like much of his other recorded music). Isaías Sávio (1900-1977), a guitarist who taught in São Paulo, often composed with Brazilian rhythms as he did in Batacuda which refers to a style of African-influenced, percussive samba. Karadaglić played this and the other alluring guitar pieces on this half with charisma and charm.

Agustín Barrios (1885-1947) was represented by Un Sueño en la floresta which shimmered with melodic slides and mandolin-like tremolo, reminding me, as did much of this program, of café music. Many in the audience sighed at its end. The final programmed piece, Koyunbaba Opus 19 by Carlo Domeniconi (b. 1947) has four short movements based on a Turkish folksong.  Full of hypnotic repetitions, it requires the guitar to be re-tuned to C-sharp minor. “I heard it at 16,” Karadaglić recalled, “one of my colleagues played it.  It is almost a cure for my nostalgia for Montenegro.” The second movement, a mournful andante with spare accompaniment, was the highlight of this listener’s evening. “How about more tremelo?”  Karadaglić asked after returned for a curtain hall. Another lovely Domeniconi piece followed.

Oddly, there was no standing ovation, an occurrence so rare it is worth noting.  But during intermission, I bought Miloš Mediterráneo and immediately understood his huge popularity.  It is fabulous, and deserves its own Standing O. Karadaglić seems more alive on this disc than he did in person; if you crave hearing him talk, just head to YouTube.

Susan Miron is a book critic, essayist, and harpist. Her last two CDs featured her transcriptions of keyboard music of Domenico Scarlatti

5 Comments

  1. Two questions:

    1. If he has achieved one-name status and is now simply Miloš, why does the headline read “Celebrity Karadaglić at Longy?”

    2. How/why is it “dumbing down” the experience to talk to an audience? Of course, some performers talk better than others, just as some program notes are better than others – but there’s nothing essentially dumb about talking!

    Comment by Michael Monroe — February 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm

  2. Never trust the headline writer- he’s a wry one with propensities for alliteration, as in Kelebrity Karadaglić

    Comment by Lee Eiseman — February 15, 2013 at 6:22 pm

  3. We were at the Wednesday night performance. Had Karadaglic not indicated that he had split a fingernail and was thus compromised, I would have told you that he played like a promising grad student but certainly not like a world-class guitarist. We left at intermission.

    While the fingernail can explain away the less-than-exemplary playing in the Bach and Villa-Lobos–inadequate at worst and indistinctive at best–what it can not explain is Karadaglic’s inability to play in tune. It was shocking how out of tune he was during the Bach. All I could think is, does this man not hear himself? After the Bach, he took a lot of time out to tune the guitar before starting the Villa-Lobos, and certainly, the worst of his being out of tune was corrected. But at one point, he played two Es, an octave apart, and seemed satisfied even though the two E’s were not in tune with each other. Wow. He was still playing out of tune in the Villa-Lobos, although much less than before.

    Maybe this is unfair, but in previous concerts in Boston, we’ve been lucky to hear the Assad Brothers playing lots of music, including the last of the four Villa-Lobos pieces that Karadaglic played. To be fair, two guitarists playing together can’t be compared to one (Milos). But even allowing for that, the differences in the quality of the musicianship between the Assads–i.e. the real deal–and Karadaglic, are pronounced.

    Maybe Karadaglic is himself also the real deal and he just did the best he could while being at less than 100%. But in my book, there’s no excuse for playing out of tune. So I’d perhaps give him another try in the future to hear if a world-class player emerges. But based on one concert in which he was less than 100%, there’s legitimate reason to wonder if he’s little more than just a pretty face.

    Comment by Mogulmeister — February 15, 2013 at 8:54 pm

  4. Fwiw there’s a lot of him on youtube and, repertory apart, it sounds quite in tune (to me). So perhaps it was indeed finger-related. However, and again fwiw, I know more than one person who often has the same response to violinists, especially in chamber music, where, even though it’s always relative, the response is What, can’t they hear how off their intonation is?

    Comment by David Moran — February 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm

  5. I’m sorry you were less than charmed by Mr Karadaglic’s charm! And while we agree with some of your comments about the Bach, it didn’t make Thursday’s concert any the less extraordinary for us.

    About the “too many notes” issue, however, I think you simply missed his point. First, the comment was tongue in cheek, and was in the context of saying that Bach was a great keyboard player but not a great lutist, and without the invention of the lute-harpsichord (see: http://www.baroquemusic.org/barluthp.html), he would have trouble playing it. Because it was written not for the ordinary lute, but for the lute with keyboard, there are “too many notes” to play it readily on an ordinary lute. Finally, the phrase “too many notes” is also probably a conscious reference to the moment in the film “Amadeus” where the emperor tells Mozart a piece has too many notes, prompting the musical genius to ask his majesty which of the notes he thought should be removed.

    As to the issue of being dumbed down, well, yes, a bit, but I don’t expect a solo guitar recital to have the Germanic weightiness of, say, a solo cello recital. Does anyone?

    Pax,
    jdh

    Comment by jdh — February 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

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