Live at St George’s Hall, Bradford 20th January 2024
In this large and beautiful hall, Milos Karadaglic plays Bach’s Chaconne solo on an unamplified acoustic guitar and it is clear. That’s how rapt and attentive the audience were; grateful to hear the current classical guitar superstar, so well-known that his record company only use his first name on his albums now. Not only that, but he was playing with the much-lauded Arcangelo ensemble, carrying a reputation for period performance.
The Chaconne was the stand-out piece, transcribed by Karadaglic himself and played with a thoughtful intimacy devoid of any show-boating. Milos takes time to tell us about his love for baroque, that Bach is the beginning and the end, the sun in the solar system and he’s right. Clearly in love with the piece, he talks, in his unassuming way, about his efforts at emotional authenticity, at adding something to the piece and never accepting a transcription that doesn’t bring something new. That’s significant as, at this point, he could do as he pleases and be praised. Here he is with 300 year-old music, played on a relatively new instrument and the only pieces that have a direct evolutionary connection are Weiss’ Passacaglia and Vivaldi’s Lute Concerto, both written for lute, yet the selection works honestly, without novelty.
We open on a Vivaldi orchestral piece (six violins, two violas, two cellos, a double bass and harpsichord), followed by a couple of pieces for guitar and orchestra. The sound is excellent and clear, though Jonny Cohen’s harpsichord is largely drowned out in the large group. The moment everyone was waiting for was the solo Chaconne, a piece that Milos says expresses all stages of life in its changes and he has been playing for twenty years. He pauses as he says this, smiling bashfully as he reflects on how long it has been since he was a student. As ever with Bach, the music is intricate, precise and mathematically perfect.
The concert has two hour-long halves, giving time to enjoy the rather lovely hall with its friendly staff. The second half is a similar mix. I’m surprised Pachabel’s Canon is played without guitar, an instrument is easily fits. The three short solo guitar pieces make up for it, from the rich dance of Rameau to the detail of the Weiss. Purcell is always welcome and the orchestra shines. Some of the violinists are almost dancing and the principal cellist is doing “guitar solo face”. The band is full of glances and smiles, clearly one that is enjoying their playing.
There is a joy in hearing Karadaglic speak of his love for the music and a greater joy in watching his crafting of the sound. He is a craftsman of interpretation, focussed on a close exploration of each piece, devoid of shallow flash, concentrated on allowing the notes to reach the emotional heart of the passage.
The double encore is a delight – some more Vivaldi and a heartfelt ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’. Definitely not baroque, he shows us what he can do with a looser interpretation – using harmonics throughout to bring delight at the sheer sonic pleasure. With a shy smile, he and Jonathan Cohen take their bows, alongside the orchestra, as the audience rewards the intense focus of the musicians, not least Milos Karadaglic, with his ability to distil musical truth and present it naked and clear, alone on a stage.