"Thank you for coming to see me instead of the Eagles."
Thus spoke Miloš, a classical guitarist from Montenegro, as he opened the first of two Schubert Club International Artist Series recitals at St. Paul's Ordway Concert Hall Saturday night. Yes, those hitmakers of the '70s (now in their seventies) were at the hockey arena next door, but I'm betting that the sound mix was much better at the Ordway. And without an amplifier in sight.
Indeed, in introducing the concert, the Schubert Club's artistic and executive director, Barry Kempton, sounded as if he's been wanting to book a classical guitar recital into the Ordway Concert Hall ever since it opened in 2015 — just to show off how great such a concert could sound in that acoustically sublime setting. And a pretty popular guitarist would need to be on the bill in order to fill most of that hall's 1,100 seats.
Enter Miloš, who's been soaring to the upper reaches of the classical sales charts over the past decade, even landing some albums on the pop charts. On Saturday night, he proved a fine ambassador for his instrument as he performed for an audience more accustomed to pianists, violinists and singers. Accessibility was the order of the evening, as this handsome, articulate guitarist guided the audience through a crowd-pleasing program of mostly baroque music. Like the Eagles, he offered a greatest hits concert to an appreciative audience.
Miloš' latest album is called "Baroque," and seven of the 11 works on this weekend's concerts are from that era. Yet the guitarist often eschewed conventional approaches to playing baroque music on guitar. For example, his transcription of a lovely minuet from a keyboard suite by George Frideric Handel avoided the showy ornamentation one customarily hears on the second time through a baroque-period theme. And one of the most popular solo instrumental pieces from that time — the "Chaconne" from J.S. Bach's D-minor solo violin sonata — was more meditative than turbulent in Miloš' interpretation. Emotional yes, but not particularly intense.
Such couldn't be said of the excerpt from Isaac Albéniz's "Leyenda" that opened the concert's second half, for it was full of violently vigorous strumming. But things became quieter from there, as the guitarist showcased soft and sweet-toned miniatures from the pens of Domenico Scarlatti, Agustín Barrios Mangoré and François Couperin.
Miloš has an album of solo guitar takes on the Beatles in his discography, and he chose to drop "Blackbird" into his second-half set in a version very similar to the original on "the White Album," save for the vocal lines being played on the guitar at the same time as the repeating figure that forms the song's foundation.
The peak of the performance came on a new work by French composer Mathias Duplessy called "Amor Fati," which found Miloš opening up a stylistic variety pack, seemingly most enjoying being able to add flamenco flavors to the mix. An enthusiastic ovation brought him back to the stage for two encores: A wistful "Over the Rainbow" and a gentle good night from Francisco Tárrega's "Lágrima."
What: Works by Sylvius Leopold Weiss, Jean-Philippe Rameau, George Frideric Handel, J.S. Bach, Isaac Albéniz, Domenico Scarlatti, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, François Couperin, Lennon and McCartney, and Mathias Duplessy
When: 3 p.m. Sun.
Where: Ordway Concert Hall, 345 Washington St., St. Paul
Tickets: $36-$75 (students and children free), 651-292-3268 or schubert.org
Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.