Many musicians would be grateful enough to know that a concert would one day be held in honour of their music, let alone their shadow, but the legacy of the great Mr. Ludwig van Beethoven was deservedly the focus of the final Conversational Concert of this series with pianist and lecturer Karl Lutchmayer. A little different in set-up to the normal concert, the aim of this ‘conservational’ brand of recital was to inform and enhance the listening experience by interspersing live performance with an explanation of the historical context and musical workings of the pieces, and this uniquely informative yet light-hearted approach to enjoying music in a more informed way certainly did not disappoint.

With repertoire selected both from the works of Beethoven and from his musical heirs, the programme began with two pieces by the inimitable father of Romanticism himself, starting with the Variations on a Russian Dance from ‘Das Wäldmachen’, an unpublished gem of an early work which sadly seems to be aired fairly infrequently in concert halls today. This is a set of variations on a theme from a lost ballet by Paul Wranitzky and, by the performer’s own admission, most definitely not a work of the depth and grandeur with which we now associate Beethoven, but even in this less mature work wit and enthusiasm in the writing shone through in Lutchmayer’s hands, his lightness of touch bringing an incandescent sparkle to this charming if not quite so accomplished work of the young Beethoven.

Next in the programme was the Sonata no. 28 in A major, one of the last of Beethoven’s 32 published sonatas. A work of both indirect and direct influence on later composers (the opening of Mendelssohn’s Sonata in E, Op. 6, bears remarkable similarities), it marks the beginning of Beethoven’s late-period compositional output for piano, even being labelled his “most revolutionary” sonata by Lutchmayer in his preceding introduction. Though in my eyes this is a little over-generous, the sonata is still incredibly interesting in its construction, with a wonderful juxtaposition of Romantic, sweeping melodies with a homage to the Baroque, including a terrifically difficult fugue in the final movement, which was performed with admirable poise and clarity.

Ironically, given the title of the concert, Beethoven himself was then completely outshadowed by Schumann due to Lutchmayer’s show-stopping interpretation of the Fantasy, Op. 17. It was written in order to raise money for a monument to Beethoven (a project endorsed by Mendelssohn and Liszt, among others) and dedicated to Liszt. Hidden references to Clara Schumann are laced throughout the music: a direct quotation by Schumann from Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte provides a brief but telling doff of the cap to both his wife and his compositional inspiration.

The interpretation of the first movement (originally subtitled Ruins) was heartfelt and passionate, with a clear sense of direction in spite of the piece’s liquid sense of harmony (given that it is a piece in C major, it surprisingly takes over 300 bars for this chord to finally appear!). The technical difficulties in the second movement (Triumphal Arch) were handled with apparent ease – no mean feat in a work of such staggering virtuosity – and the third movement (Palms) with a similar musical flair; the work was played with intensity and genuine feeling throughout. The twenty seconds of silence that followed the rendition were well deserved, and fitting for such a terrific performance.

In a programme of Beethoven and his musical heirs, Liszt was of course afforded the final place, although by a less obvious choice of repertoire: his thirteenth Hungarian Rhapsody, one of the lesser-performed of the set. Although the interpretation was enjoyable and both the technical and musical demands of the piece were handled with incredible dexterity and musicality (from a technical standpoint, the passages of repeated notes were particularly impeccable), it seems to me that there is a reason that this work is little performed: despite being composed not long in advance of Liszt’s masterful Sonata in B minor, the piece itself does not to represent the compositional prowess of Liszt particularly well, and this particular rhapsody lacks the imagination and inventiveness of his other concurrent compositions.

Choice of Liszt aside, the programme on the whole was incredibly well-balanced and enjoyable, and Lutchmayer’s introductions both incredibly informative and witty. The spoken lecture/recital format proved very entertaining, especially given that both the talking and the playing were equally charismatically and masterfully done, and it was incredibly refreshing as an audience member to be able to appreciate the context and musical relevance of the pieces without having to bury your head in a programme.

Conversational Concert with Karl Lutchmayer: ‘In the Shadow of Beethoven’, at Pushkin HouseMadelaine Jones reviews the last in this year's series of Karl Lutchmayer's Conversational Concerts at Pushkin House, London.4