The Bowdoin International Music Festival’s concert Friday night at Crooker Theater was a short, brilliant course in the evolution of keyboard technique, from Bach’s harpsichord writing to his virtuoso organ style to Chopin’s filagreed dance to Cesar Franck’s modulating perpetual motion, like a 19th- century Phillip Glass.

Franck’s “Piano Quintet in F Minor” depicts a torrid love affair, in terms that were a little too graphic for pianist Camille Saint-Sa?, who walked off the stage after the final climax of the premiere and never returned.

Saint-Sa? was the type of composer-virtuoso who could play anything on sight, and one assumes that he didn’t know what was in the score until too late. He had been enamored of the femme-fatale about whom Franck wrote the work.

The keyboard works were arranged in chronological order, so the Franck was played last. It was beautifully rendered, especially the piano part by Elizaveta Kopelman and her musical partner in the drama, violinist Mikhail Kopelman, but Franck, even at his most passionate, is not one to draw cheers. Like that of his friend Saint-Sa?, his music sounds much easier to play than it is. It is also — dare I say it — a little long-winded.

The program opened with my favorite of the Bach Brandenburg Concertos, “No. 5 in D Major” (BWV 1050), which is basically a harpsichord concerto, designed to show off the powers of a new instrument. This is Bach at his most cheerful and always a delight to hear, no matter how often it is played.

Much more serious Bach followed, with Ferruccio Busoni’s piano arrangement of the Bach “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” (BWV 565) played by Emma Tahmizian. Busoni’s arrangements are among the few that improve on the originals and his “Toccata and Fugue” is no exception. It has all the power of the organ version with more clarity and a transparency that lets one see the composer’s mind at work. In the hands of Tahmizian it was a force of nature.

Pianist Eric Zuber’s interpretation of the Chopin “Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante” (Op. 22) could not have been more different, but was even more thrilling. Zuber’s playing is elegance personified. It was easy to close one’s eyes and be transported to a salon in Paris with the composer improvising on Polish airs.

Every single note of each fiendishly difficult ornament fitted perfectly into the bar, and there was just enough rubato to make it authentic. Maybe Zuber has been visiting a psychic, but more likely the music itself is the medium. This performance got one of those jump-to-the-feet cheering ovations from the usually reticent audience at Crooker Theater.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at:

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