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Busoni: Piano Concerto Op 39 / Ogdon, Revenaugh

Release Date: 02/06/2007 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 72467   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  John Ogdon
Conductor:  Daniell Revenaugh
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic OrchestraJohn Alldis Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 14 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BUSONI Piano Concerto, op. 39 John Ogdon (pn); Daniell Revenaugh, cond; John Alldis Ch Men; Royal PO EMI 72467 (68:42)

Made 40 years ago, this first recorded performance of Busoni’s Piano Concerto has since been keenly rivaled—by David Lively, with Michael Gielen and the SWR Orchestra (long-gone Koch 311 160, Fanfare 15:1) and Garrick Ohlsson, with Christoph Dohnányi leading the Cleveland Orchestra (still available Read more Telarc 80207, Fanfare 13:4). But not yet overtopped. Turning to the inheritor of Ogdon’s mantle, Marc-André Hamelin, one hears a performance even more stunningly, fluently virtuosic, but couched in clueless orchestral work—Mark Elder’s loose grasp on the CBSO—in which the uneasy mix seems brummagem, too long, and pointlessly involved (Hyperion 67143, Fanfare 23:4—yes, I’ve been disappointed in the long term). Elder, by the way, performed the same disservice for Peter Donohoe with the BBC Symphony in a previous tilt at the Concerto (EMI/Angel 49996, Fanfare 14:4), mischief compounded by similarly maundering helmsmanship in a 1986 London revival of Doktor Faust . A dull routineer’s shapeless, faute de mieux time-beating through a couple of works makes one a Busoni “specialist.” With performances like these littering the landscape it’s little wonder that Busoni’s work still provokes misunderstanding and ambivalence. A long glimpse into the opportunity Elder muffed is afforded by Hamelin’s account of the Concerto’s fourth Tarantella movement, hand-in-glove with Osmo Vänska and the Lahti Symphony (“It’s all about the music,” Hyperion DVD 68000)—a coruscating, blindingly brilliant performance veering from the fantastically vivacious to the audaciously demonic. A recently released 1956 live performance of the Concerto by Gunnar Johansen, with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and the NDR Orchestra, Hamburg (Music & Arts 1163, Fanfare 29:2), is the mercurial antithesis of Ogdon’s granitic manner but also the preeminent runner-up.

Certainly, it requires a pianistic Übermensch to bring the Concerto off, and this is what most critics emphasize, but a viable performance depends equally upon cohesive orchestral partnership. The piano, after all, often takes a secondary stance, accompanying the orchestra, commenting and musing upon its gambits, seconding its blazons, and generally playing a role analogous to the viola soloist in Harold en Italie . Busoni’s pace is leisurely—tumult within a generous aura of serenity—but it is not formless, and conductors who trust him and trouble themselves to get inside the work (as they would, say, contemporary symphonies by Mahler, Elgar, or Nielsen) demonstrate what Busoni’s friend, Bernard van Dieren, had in mind when he described the Concerto as “really a ‘dramatic symphony’ in the Berliozian sense.” Elder and his ilk provoke impatience where Revenaugh shines as the orchestra engages in a dialogue with Ogdon leading to a progressively swelling aura of revelation, heard with such refulgence in no other performance. In and out of print, this performance is one of the pillars of the Busoni discography and should be kept permanently available—but won’t. Beside the crisp immediacy of today’s digital, the sound shows its age, though in its day it was exemplary—detailed, well balanced, yet sufficiently panoramic not to clot in Vesuvian moments. There is low-level hiss, which you won’t hear unless you seek it out. Sound is identical with its first CD issue (EMI Studio 69850, Fanfare 13:6) and its inclusion in the 1998 Ogdon I album in the “Great Pianists of the 20th Century” series (No. 72, Philips 456 913), coupled with the classic first recording of the Alkan Concerto for Solo Piano, the Rachmaninoff Second Sonata, and the Scriabin Fourth, nla. Sic transit gloria mundi . You’re best advised to grab this now.

FANFARE: Adrian Corleonis
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano with Orchestra and Male Chorus, Op. 39/K 247 by Ferruccio Busoni
Performer:  John Ogdon (Piano)
Conductor:  Daniell Revenaugh
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  John Alldis Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1904 
Date of Recording: 06/1967 
Venue:  EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 1, London 

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