Notes and Editorial Reviews
The excellent booklet notes by our very own Jed Distler constitute a more perceptive review than this is likely to be, but here goes. This six disc set contains all of John Ogdon’s RCA recordings, issued in “original jacket” format. In other words, it could have been condensed onto fewer discs, but I doubt anyone will complain. However, the set is currently selling on Amazon USA for more then double the cost in the UK (about GBP28 over there), so do as I did and check pricing before you order.
The range of repertoire on these six discs is as astonishing as the performances. I discovered the Nielsen piano works Alkan’s Concerto for Solo Piano from these
recordings, and further encounters with other excellent versions have not dimmed their luster. You won’t find a more powerful version of the Nielsen Chaconne, for example, and if the Alkan isn’t quite as clearly sculpted structurally as either of Hamelin’s versions, it’s still exciting as hell and as thrilling an example of virtuoso pianism as I ever hope to hear.
Ogdon’s recording of the two Rachmaninov sonatas has always been highly regarded, and it remains one of a tiny handful of recordings to do justice to both works–especially the long First Sonata. The Mennin Piano Concerto and Yardumian Passacaglia, Recitative and Fugue are uniquely authoritative, and well worth getting to know. The Liszt recital, new outside of Japan, captures Ogdon live and in excellent form. He nails the ever-popular Second Hungarian Rhapsody (with his own cadenza), and blasts through Mazeppa and the Mephisto Waltz No. 1 with uninhibited abandon. Even the hackneyed Grand Galop Chromatique benefits from Ogdon’s huge range of sonority and articulation.
He’s not all bang and bluster, though. If you check out the scherzo of the Hammerklavier Sonata, you’ll hear wonderfully subtle touches: those slight “pushes” energizing the basic tempo, and the dry staccatos at the ends of phrases hinting at a latent power that only emerges at the very end. It’s both characterful and intelligent, as is the entire performance.
This smaller set undoubtedly represents Ogdon more consistently at his best than does the EMI (Warner) Icon box, interesting though much of that is. He was always a risk-taker, and his rough and ready persona is mirrored in his playing, not always to the music’s advantage, but these well-mastered performances amply support his claim to be considered a major artist. Those who know them will need no urging from me to acquire this set; those who do not are in for a treat.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano by Peter Mennin
John Ogdon (Piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1958; USA
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