> Franz Liszt - Piano Music [AS]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Franz Liszt
Piano Music played by john ogdon
Piano Concerto no 1 in E flat major (S 124)

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Constantin Silvestri
recorded in Colston Hall, Bristol, September 1967
Piano Concerto no 2 in A major (S 125)

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London, September 1971
Mephisto Waltz no 1 (S 514)

recorded in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, April 1969
Grand Fantasia on La Campanella (S 420) and Transcendental Study Harmonies du Soir (S139 no 11)
recorded in BBC Studios, London, September 1970
BBC LEGENDS 4089-2 [73:13]


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Thirteen years have passed since the untimely death in 1989 of John Ogdon at the age of 52, but none who experienced his special blend of musical insight and technical brilliance will ever forget him. I last heard him ‘live’ in the mid-1980s. By then, he had recovered sufficiently from the dreadful affliction which had brought his dazzling career to a sudden halt in 1973 to enable him to embark on a limited concert schedule. Characteristically, it was not an old warhorse that he played on that occasion, but the Second Piano Concerto of Alan Rawsthorne. True, some of his old fire had deserted him, but he had lost none of his unique charisma – I particularly recall the affection which he lavished on this fine work. (A further reason for remembering this concert was that, if my memory serves correctly, Sir Charles Groves was the conductor: another musician notable for championing unfashionable causes.)

So, this disc, which captures Ogdon at the height of his powers, is to be treasured – especially since none of the tracks emanates from a recording studio. Liszt, I suppose, is still a controversial composer: for some, a deep musical thinker; for others, a bombastic showman. Ogdon’s supreme virtue was his ability to reconcile these poles of opinion. This is best illustrated in his explosive account of the Mephisto Waltz no 1, where he combines amazing virtuosity with seamless structural mastery. He also revels in the grotesque figurations and harmonic distortions of La Campanella. Harmonies du Soir is technically even more demanding: here, Ogdon sails through majestically: he takes risks, almost all of which he surmounts.

Of the two concertos recorded here, I prefer the first. In both, Ogdon’s command of filigree passage-work, bold declamation, tender musings and – a particular characteristic – electrifying glissandi flourishes are equally in evidence. And structural momentum is firmly maintained throughout. The difference lies in the accompaniments. Both conductors are in total sympathy with the soloist, but the Bournemouth’s generally warm if a little ‘boxy’ sound is distinctly superior to that of the BBCSO, which is unfocused and marred by coarse brass. Nevertheless, unreservedly recommended.

Adrian Smith


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