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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat, Op. 83a (1878-81) [45:31]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1797-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111b (1822) [25:47]
John Ogdon (piano) aThe Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli
rec. aBBC Studios, Manchester, 16 September 1966; bBBC Studios, London, 5 November 1963. ADD mono
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4183-2 [71:54]
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This is a magical reminder of a great pianist, here caught in collaboration with a great conductor. The magic is at full swell in the slow movement of the Brahms, where the orchestral outpouring is fully matched by Ogdon. Beware the perils of live performance – around 6:10 the atmosphere is actually quite miraculous, despite the suspect wind tuning. Towards the end, this movement is positively spellbinding. 

The performance gets off to the best of starts with some lovely horn playing. The piano recording itself is remarkably good. If some of the edge is taken off, there remains a document of Ogdon’s glorious tone. The interpretation itself is possibly a little less determined than one might imagine; it is the moments of tenderness that stand out. Energy instead is at its height in the second movement; the orchestra, like the pianist, is grittily determined. Listen in particular, if you will, to the piano at around 6:27. A blacker piano sound you are unlikely to encounter; it is as if late Liszt has suddenly appeared on the scene. The finale is the only possible antidote to such intensity, and here there is a real sense of play between piano and orchestra. There is a surprisingly touching moment when it seems the orchestra wants to get serious and the piano replies with fury! Dialogues really are that – communications in a way rarely encountered.

The Beethoven presents an intense experience. Ogdon finds an underlying lyricism to the first movement of Op. 111 (around 1:20 made me think of the ‘Pastoral’ Sonata). What is most impressive is Ogdon’s grasp of the music’s long span so the whole becomes one long outpouring – a trait that is doubly appropriate to the heavenly second movement. There is a sort of inner communing to the theme that can only be described as ‘rapt’. Ogdon’s sure sense of rhythm ensures there is no untoward pulling on the pulse - if only more players adhered to this! Again there is a sure sense of line that runs through the entire experience, elevating the account to sit alongside those by Arrau (Philips and VAI DVD) and Schnabel (see review).

Jeremy Siepmann’s accompanying notes are excellent. Entitled, ‘Genius, Generosity and Grandeur’, he begins with a discussion of the ‘big’ pianist - pointing out they are often short of stature! - before tracing the career of the man he calls the ‘shambling provincial giant’. Those of us who were lucky to hear Ogdon live know exactly what he means. The Great Man’s career is tracked from Manchester to Moscow and beyond into the unimaginable nightmare of schizophrenia. One thing is sure, though – we are in the presence of genius when we listen to these astonishing performances.

Colin Clarke






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