sat 20/07/2024

Classical CDs Weekly: Britten, Miloš Karadaglić, Tom Waits | reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Britten, Miloš Karadaglić, Tom Waits

Classical CDs Weekly: Britten, Miloš Karadaglić, Tom Waits

Spectacular War Requiem, a solo guitar recital and Waits songs arranged by Gavin Bryars

Miloš Karadaglić: everything works


Britten: War Requiem Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Children’s Choir/Jaap van Zweden and Reinbert de Leeuw (Challenge)

One of classical music’s most unlikely popular successes, Britten’s War Requiem was premiered 50 years ago in Coventry Cathedral. The composer taped the work shortly afterwards and the resulting LP became an unexpected bestseller. For this not an easy work to enjoy, let alone love. The relentless greyness can quickly become oppressive, and there are times when you can feel like you’re receiving a lecture. Fortunately, this magnificently produced live recording packs an incredible punch. Britten's occasional garish vulgarity is brilliantly caught – the gamelan chimes at the start of the Sanctus are overwhelming, and the brass fanfares which dominate the Dies Irae are as weighty and as punchy as I’ve ever heard them. Jaap van Zweden takes charge of the larger moments with unerring skill. He keeps the shuffling rhythms of the Introitus moving forward and is always sensitive to dynamics, helped by an acoustic which never lets the composer's sharply defined textures descend into mush.  Van Zweden is also wonderful at controlling the slow accelerando at the start of the Libera me. The Netherlands Radio Choir sing with rich, weighty tone and soprano Evelina Dobracheva is excellent, particularly gorgeous in the swooning 7/4 melody which dominates part of the Dies Irae.

All of which is only half the story; this recording scores in having the chamber orchestra directed by Reinbert de Leeuw, who’s equally adept at directing Britten’s Wilfred Owen settings. He’s aided by good soloists – Anthony Dean Griffey and Mark Stone singing with clarity and purpose. Gianandra Noseda’s recent LSO Live recording received deserved acclaim, but this Dutch performance is better still. The closing five minutes, where Britten characteristically mixes chilliness with radiance, are overwhelming.

Mercy and Grand: The Music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan Jess Walker (voice), ensemble directed by Jim Holmes (GB Records)

Recorded during performances at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2008, this CD on Gavin Bryars’s own label derives from an Opera North-sponsored project placing songs by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan alongside examples of the American and European tradition from which they spring. Numbers by Kurt Weill blend seamlessly alongside a few folksong settings, and they’re all sung by the classically-trained mezzo-soprano Jess Walker. Her voice is about as remote as it’s possible to be from Waits’s guttural rasp. Rather like hearing Weill songs sung by someone other than Lotte Lenya – you begin to really appreciate Waits’ melodic gifts, and, most importantly, you can understand every word.

The arrangements are marvellous, dominated by reedy, bass-heavy sonorities – accordion, harmonium and harmonica. Bryars, who arranged most of the Waits/Brennan songs, plays double bass. The rarely heard waterphone pops up in "Broken Bicycles". A musical saw makes a welcome appearance, and the violinist occasionally switches to a screechy Translyvanian trumpet-violin. Above it all soars Walker’s alluring voice. She makes each song her own – these are not watered-down cover versions but earthy, vibrant reinventions.

Miloš Karadaglić: Latino (DG)

Glossy packaging which unsurprisingly accentuates this guitarist’s smouldering good looks doesn’t distract from the fact that he’s an exceptionally talented player. In short, if you’re in need of a collection of Latin-tinged solo guitar music, buy this one, and buy it even if you think you don’t need it. Alexandra Coghlan raved about Montenegrin guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in her recent dispatch from Istanbul, and this engaging recital disc confirms her view. This is sensational playing, so good that you’re made unaware of how difficult some of these Latin-tinged pieces are. And Karadaglić resists the urge to show off; much of the music here is downbeat, introverted and nocturnal, yet always sensitively coloured. Jorge Cardosos’s beautiful Milonga and Leo Brouwer’s Un día de noviembre are sweetly understated.

Short pieces by Hector Villa-Lobos and  Manuel Ponce are included, both owing their existence to Andrés Segovia, one of those rare musicians whose talent and technical ability redefined the role of the classical guitar. Villa-Lobos’s brooding E minor Prelude has the melody picked out on the lower strings. Ponce’s melancholy Chanson again showcases Karadaglić’s ability to sing and sustain a line. Tangos by Astor Piazzolla provide earthier pleasures, as do dance-inflected pieces by Jorge Morel and Isaísas Sávio. Everything works, and Karadaglić’s contributions to Kenneth Chalmers’ sleeve notes are as eloquent as his technique.

Watch Miloš Karadaglić play Astor Piazzolla's Libertango:

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