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John Ogdon (piano)
The Ludwigsburg Recital in 1967
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia & Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903 [13:17]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) 
Piano Sonata No 29 in B Flat Major, Op 106 [39:34]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
12 Études, Op 25 [26:52]
rec. live, 8 July 1967, Schloss Ordenssaal, SDR, Ludwigsburg, Germany
MELOCLASSIC MC1056 [79:45]

English pianist John Ogdon’s meteoric rise to fame followed his success at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1962, where he took joint first prize with Vladimir Ashkenazy. A brilliant career was launched and, at its peak, he was performing around 200 concerts a year. The constant pressure he was under to perform, tour and make records was to eventually take its toll. In the early 1970s he had a mental breakdown, which was followed by periods of hospitalization and financial ruin. He later returned to the concert platform, but some say that he never played the same again. This live Ludwigsburg recital from 1967 predates these vicissitudes and gives the listener the opportunity to experience this genius of the piano at the height of his powers.

Ogdon performs Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903 with dash and brilliance. The flourishes which open the Fantasia are dazzling and pearl-like. The character is bold and courageous. The lengthy passages of recitative are improvisatory, creating the sense of music being created on the wing. Definition is the name of the game in the Fugue, and everything unfolds with pristine clarity

Beethoven’s Hammerklavier must have occupied Ogdon throughout 1967, as this was the year he took it into the studios of RCA. Comparing this live airing with the commercial one, I didn’t find any interpretive divergence, but this performance from Ludwigsburg, being live, has that extra ounce of frisson. Ogdon delivers an epic performance marked by effortless virtuosity, and drama. The opening movement is aristocratic and noble, with no loss of momentum throughout. The Scherzo has an impish streak, and the slow movement is comfortably paced and marked by a reverential and probing introspection. There’s a marvelous transition into the last movement, which is handled superbly, and the final fugue certainly packs a punch.

The recital ends with Chopin’s 12 Études, Op. 25. No. 1 ‘Aeolian Harp’ has a seamless flow, and his sensitive pedaling is able to highlight the harmonic shifts that occur as the music progresses. There’s a perfect balance between the left hand melody and the arpeggio accompaniment in No. 5 in E minor. Pure articulation and evenness are a feature of the thirds in No. 6, and No. 7 is imbued with poetry and lyrical beauty. The ‘Winter Wind’ (No. 11) is evocative and filled with gripping drama.

The sound quality here is excellent, allowing us to fully savour Ogdon’s wonderful playing. This is a highly desirable release and gets my wholehearted recommendation.

Stephen Greenbank

 



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