Ogdon – pianist, composer, writer- was one of the UK’s most
prodigiously talented musicians until illness cut short his
career in the early 1970s. A contemporary of figures such as
Maxwell Davies and Harrison Birtwistle in Manchester in the
1950s, his pianistic talent manifested itself at an early age.
He studied with figures such as Iso Elinson and Egon Petri and
made his London debut aged 21 playing Busoni’s Piano Concerto
which he championed and later recorded. His success at the 1962
International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow – he shared
first prize with Vladimir Ashkenazy – launched an international
ability to commit the most complicated scores to memory, plus
his unrivalled technical command, enabled him to incorporate
an enormous range of music into his repertoire. In addition
to what might be thought of as “standard” fare he was also a
pioneering performer of works by Tippett, Alkan, Ronald Stevenson,
Sorabji and Busoni. As a composer himself, Ogdon possessed a
striking ability to combine a rigorously intellectual approach
to such complex works as Stevenson’s Passacaglia and Fugue
on DSCH or Opus Clavicembalisticum by Sorabji with
a capacity to project the overall structure of the music effectively
onset of illness effectively ended his career in the mid-1970s,
and Ogdon was hospitalised for some years. An attempted comeback
with the support of his wife Brenda Lucas in the 1980s was at
best partially successful and he did not regain the flair that
characterised his earlier performances, although he continued
to make recordings. He died in 1989 at the age of 52.
four CDs in this set contain a mixture of “popular” and more
unfamiliar repertoire, and the performances are never less than
involving. Two of the items, the Paganini Rhapsody and
Bartók’s First Concerto, have never been published before and
some tracks are only now making their first appearance on CD.
was one of Ogdon’s great enthusiasms and he recorded the Second
Concerto under John Pritchard before his Moscow success. The
recording sounds well and Ogdon is fully equal to the work’s
technical demands although there is something rather stolid
about the performance overall – Ashkenazy’s roughly contemporary
account on Decca with Kondrashin creates a greater sense of
excitement. In the Adagio sostenuto some beautiful orchestral
playing from the Philharmonia is occasionally offset by some
over-emphasis on Ogdon’s part in some passages which detract
from the poetry of the movement. The Finale goes well enough
and the grand restatement of the tune at the end is as barnstorming
as one could wish.
Paganini Rhapsody recording has been unpublished until
now due to faulty recording balances which have now been improved.
Overall this is a memorable performance which takes wing in
a way that the rather studio-bound Second Concerto does not.
Here Ogdon and Pritchard capture the mercurial nature of Rachmaninov’s
variations very successfully with a particularly effective use
of dynamic contrasts which one doesn’t always hear in this work.
The famous 18th variation for example is launched with great
simplicity and builds to an impassioned climax. The final variations
are powerful and exciting. It’s a pleasure to welcome this fine
performance from the archives.
two concertante works by Fauré and Litolff - originally coupled
with Carnival of the Animals in which John Ogdon was
partnered by his wife Brenda Lucas - are dispatched with suitable
panache and Frémaux provides sterling support.
Tchaikovsky First Concerto and Franck Symphonic Variations display
Ogdon’s ability to combine virtuosity with delicacy in performance,
and Barbirolli and the Philharmonia provide passionate orchestral
support. Here and there Ogdon lingers in some passages rather
more than necessary, temporarily slowing down the progress of
Hungarian Fantasia and Rhapsodie espagnole - the latter in an
orchestration by Busoni - are more unusual fare and were recorded
at the same time as the Paganini Rhapsody. These are performed
with the degree of panache we might expect.
hitherto unpublished Bartók First Concerto under the baton of
Sir Malcolm Sargent was recorded at the same sessions as the
Third Concerto which was later released on ASD 2347 coupled
with the Sonata for two pianos and percussion. Some unrealistically
close timpani and woodwind balances may be the reason for this
recording being withheld. Ogdon and Sargent are generally successful
in projecting the impetus of the concerto although occasionally
there is some rhythmic slackness in slower passages. Bartók
was not exactly an unknown quantity to Sargent - or Ogdon -
but perhaps the performance would have been tighter if, say,
Dorati had been available for the sessions. He recorded fine
versions of Bartók’s string concertos with Menuhin and the New
Philharmonia around the same time.
Piano Concerto No. 1 dates from January 1976 sessions
with Paavo Berglund. The concerto was written in 1911 for Leopold
Godowsky and is a sumptuous late romantic work recalling Rachmaninov.
Ogdon sometimes seems a bit heavy-handed here and there, although
the virtuoso passages are effective enough and Berglund and
the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra lend suitably full-blooded
Ogdon’s own Piano Concerto was recorded in London in December
1970 under the American conductor Lawrence Foster. When this
came out on LP it was paired with Shostakovich’s Second Concerto.
Despite the composer’s undoubted virtuosity, in all honesty
this and Ogdon’s solo Sonata and variations included in the
set are not very memorable, with their strong echoes of Bartók
Liszt Sonata performance was described by the Stereo Record
Guide as having “the combination of intellectual grasp and emotional
power together with the live quality that distinguishes a memorable
concert performance.” What is also impressive after the drama
of much of the Sonata is the delicacy of the final section in
1966 Stereo Record Guide felt that Ogdon, in the early stages
of his career at least, was occasionally “intimidated” by his
conductors in the recording studio and this had an inhibiting
effect on the expressiveness of his concerto recordings. In
his solo discs he was able to let his imagination run free.
Sometimes in the works with orchestra the tension sags in performances,
particularly in solo passages where Ogdon attempts to apply
a degree of rubato to the performance. This is less obvious
in the Liszt concertante pieces where the music itself demands
a degree of flexibility, but in the concertos by Rachmaninov,
Tchaikovsky and Bartok the overall drive and impetus of the
performances can be adversely affected. This is balanced by
the pianist’s undoubted virtuosity and command throughout.
these reservations, this is a treasure trove for Ogdon’s fans
and also well worth acquiring if you are not yet familiar with
the legacy of this wayward genius.