Violinist Joshua Bell describes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne in D minor for solo violin as "not just one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, but one of the greatest achievements of any man in history”. Ferruccio Busoni’s piano transcription of this towering masterpiece was in fact written keeping the idiom of the organ in mind, and achieves a remarkable synthesis between virtuosity, expression and sonority. Prof. Karl Lutchmayer began his concert at the Kala Academy on 9 December 2011 with this daunting work, imbuing it with an all-pervasive deep haunting pathos for all its power and brilliance.

Lutchmayer’s trademark informal introductory talk before each piece was not only extremely informative, but made for a much more engaging and attentive audience as well. It helped create a narrative that ran right through the performance.

Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 no. 2 was dreamily rendered with a big singing legato soaring bird-like over the gentle left-hand accompaniment.

However, Beethoven’s Sonata no. 26 in E flat major, Op. 81a (“Les Adieux”) seemed laboured, especially in the first movement, as if Lutchmayer were trying to coax and cajole the music out of an unresponsive instrument. This has been a complaint from other visiting performers regarding the Steinway concert grand, and is perhaps a symptom of the fact that it is not played upon enough to maintain its suppleness and broadness of sound.

The second half of the concert was devoted to Liszt, a nod to his birth bicentenary. It began with Liszt’s arrangement of two excerpts from his friend Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique: the March to the Scaffold, and the Ball. Liszt was a brilliant transcriber of orchestral works for the piano, and this is clearly evident here. The piano reduction loses none of the flavour of the original, despite the restricted timbral palette. Lutchmayer’s steely fingerwork brought the macabre scaffold scene to eerie life, but a little more sparkle and clarity in the Ball would have rendered it even more convincing.

In contrast, we got clarity by the bucketload in Lutchmayer’s reading of Les Jeux d’eau á la Villa d’Este, a composition with onomatopoeic evocations of water in motion that so obviously presages the Impressionistic music of Debussy.

The concert ended with Totentanz (Dance of the Dead). This is a work originally written as a symphonic poem for piano and orchestra, but Liszt later transcribed it incredibly for solo piano! This is a virtuosic tour de force, with the performer having to flesh out the orchestral accompaniment as well. Lutchmayer was more than equal to this murderous task, as his hands flew all across the register with ghoulish abandon.

It is a great pity that such a magnificent performer didn’t have an even bigger audience to listen to him, despite all the publicity and the fact that it was not ticketed. It is also lamentable that photographers continue to be allowed to flit about during a concert, with noisy clicks, beeps and whirrs of their cameras, and even noisier slamming of doors as they leave and enter ad nauseum.

(This article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 13 December 2011)