Monday, 30th October 2017

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By Aveek Sen
  • Published 9.08.08

When singing in public from little slips of paper has become de rigueur with the Tagorean orthodoxy in Calcutta, it was most reassuring to hear 20-year-old Gaurab Dutta perform with increasing aplomb a long and devilishly difficult programme of Classical and Romantic music for the piano entirely from memory. This was Dutta’s debut concert as part of the Monsoon Concert Series at the Calcutta School of Music on July 19.

Initiated into Western Classical music by Basudeb Ghosh, then helped along by Mihir Gupta, and now studying with Fauzia Marikar, Dutta plays the piano because he must, driven by the challenge and sheer luxury of virtuosity and musical passion. Hearing him play, one immediately sees the point of the Norah Jones quote unconventionally slipped into his programme notes: “Without a piano I don’t know how to stand, don’t know what to do with my hands.”

Dutta began with two of Domenico Scarlatti’s single-movement sonatas, in full control of the elegant pensiveness of the first, but a trifle lacklustre in the second, the recurring trills in which demanded more nimbleness and precision from his fingers. But having broken into the sogginess of the School-of-Music Bösendorfer grand with the two Scarlattis, Dutta went straight into the deep and Romantic end of his repertoire, and remained there for the rest of the evening. Beethoven’s early and liltingly Mozartian Sonata in F minor (dedicated to Haydn) was followed by Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat major, a restless, perpetuum mobile piece, which brought out Dutta’s addiction to the difficult and the panache with which he indulges it. After the interval, Dutta played Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, beautifully interpreting the exquisite melancholy of its Allegretto quasi andantino. He then played one of Moritz Moskowski’s Études de Virtuosité, which was the cleverest way of preparing himself for the profoundly meditative Nocturne in E minor and a rousing Valse Brillante, also in E minor, both by Chopin (picture). For the encore, he played, with a sort of inspired audaciousness, an arrangement of Morris Albert’s mid-Seventies popular song, Feelings, managing to make it sound like something Chopin had composed in his early teens.

There is a difference between ‘learning’ a piece of music and ‘knowing’ it — a difference that a sensitive listener would pick up at once. Everything that Dutta played that evening with such impressive technical daring was impeccably learnt and committed to memory. But the first Scarlatti, the Schubert Andantino, the Chopin Nocturne and, oddly enough, Feelings at the end sounded like music that he has come to know deeply, and has begun to make his own. In the Schubert theme and variations, it was evident that he has begun to see not only the shape of each variation, but also how that shape fits into the larger design of the whole movement. The same needed to happen with the Beethoven sonata.

Now that Dutta has had a taste of what it is like, acoustically, to wrestle with a grand piano in a hall full of people, he will have to work towards bringing a greater dynamic range to his interpretation of Romantic music. With Beethoven especially, he will have to devise ways of producing a larger, fuller sound, using the entire body and arms, rather than working just the wrists and fingers harder. He should also loosen his intense grip on the music, and send it out to the audience more expansively. Easing the body and the mind into the depths of the music is what transforms musical self-absorption into human communion, without which the work of Romanticism remains incomplete.