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John OGDON (1937-1989)
Sonata 'Dedicated to my friend Stephen Bishop' (1961) [24:53]
Ballade (1969) [10:00]
Kaleidoscope No.1 (Six Caprices) (1967-70 rev. 1988) [14:08]
Variations and Fugue (1960-63) [16:52]
Tyler Hay (piano)
rec. 2017, Westvest Church, Schiedam, Netherlands
PIANO CLASSICS PCL10132 [66:18]

The composer-pianist, John Ogdon recorded three of his own works for EMI. True, it was only three works out of 200 but it's still noteworthy; all the more so when one of the three is the composer's own Piano Concerto No. 1. (The Second Concerto languishes unrecorded.) If you want to try out the composer's own versions including the First Piano Concerto, and the Sonata which is included on this present disc, then go for EMI's all-Ogdon set if you can find it.

As a pianist John Ogdon ranged far and wide around the chillier or less frequented corners of the repertoire. Not that this was any obstacle to his early forays into Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov's Second on EMI (one of my earliest commercial cassettes). For the same company he recorded the Rachmaninov suites with his wife Brenda Lucas and there was other solo piano music from the same composer, including the Études-Tableaux; I remember those HQS LPs. There was enough to justify an all-Rachmaninov box from EMI some years before the label was absorbed by Warners. The Ogdon/Barbirolli Tchaikovsky never quite did it for me. Years later I heard Ogdon with Monteux, this time on Vanguard, and he was outstanding in the Tchaikovsky First (review review); a pity he never got to the Second Concerto. I have never heard his Brahms 2 on BBC Legends but reports are good.

Ogdon's Busoni Piano Concerto came out on EMI and was reissued on a Studio CD and on a later EMI double. It was memorable because, in this then highly specialised, repertoire the conductor was the otherwise obscure Daniel Revenaugh. Other Ogdon commercial recordings included the Cyril Scott piano concertos with Bernard Herrmann on Lyrita, Messiaen’s Visions de l'Amen with Brenda Lucas, and Alwyn on Chandos (CHAN8399). He recorded Sorabji with Altarus (AIR CD 9072) and the same label produced a two disc "Ogdon - In Memoriam" set (AIR CD 9063). Among Ogdon BBC broadcasts, in 1966, there was a memorable Bliss Piano Concerto, with the composer, not to mention his championing of George Lloyd's First Piano Concerto in the 1960s. His unwavering advocacy for Lloyd resulted in the premiere of Lloyd's Eighth Symphony on Radio 3 in 1977 - a broadcast which rebooted Lloyd's reputation. Ogdon premiered Stevenson's Piano Concerto No. 1 Faust Triptych on the BBC with Franz-Paul Decker. Other Ogdon studio programmes included Medtner, Alan Bush, Frederick Lydiate¸ Robert Simpson and Harold Truscott.

The Sonata, in three movements, is granitic, freely dissonant yet does not lose the melodic plot. The outer movements - Allegro and Allegro Energico - recall the piano writing of Malcolm Williamson: try his exultant crashing dynamism in Piano Concerto No. 3. Tyler Hay hears closer parallels with Tippett whose Piano Concerto Ogdon recorded for EMI. The composer himself casts some light on the finale when he says "Most theologies admit the existence of the devil who is not absent from the Finale of my Sonata." The Ballade is most romantically inclined at first although it soon plunges deeply into the tougher defiant dissonance of the Sonata. It would pair well with Rawsthorne's isolated Ballade which Ogdon premiered. "Kaleidoscope" was a welcoming umbrella under which Ogdon accommodated three sets of shorter pieces including the present one, a set of ten short sonatas and a series in Homage to Britain's Composers. Of this first Kaleidoscope set, No. 1 collects beneath a convenient umbrella some disparate short pieces, all of them feeling seriously intentioned. The bravura Scherzo Brillante is gem-hard and celebratory. The Prelude and Fugue's rigour contrasts with the Rachmaninovian majesty of a strenuous Study. The Barcarolle is engagingly sly and loose-hipped. It casts reminiscent glances towards the middle movement of the Tchaikovsky Concerto. The chilly-bleak A Winter's Day is very briefly evoked before the Prelude and Fugue on a theme by Harry Birtwistle. As Tyler Hay comments, Ogdon "became an advocate for the piano music of his fellow members and inspirators Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle and Ronald Stevenson." The sensational Variations and Fugue are laid out in a single 17-minute track. It's a varied, very serious, darkly-coloured, phantasmal piece and not short on grandeur.

The recording sessions for this disc took place in the presence of Ogdon’s widow, Brenda Lucas. She provided the manuscripts and insights that inform Mr Hay's performances of these rarely heard works. As an aside I should add that Brenda Lucas's sensational performance of the Bax Piano Quintet, which took place in the cadet days of the Bax revival, is one of the great "if-onlys" of that composer's discography. Returning to this Ogdon disc, these are all early works. It would be interesting to hear a selection of the later scores. I cannot imagine a better advocate for them than Tyler Hay nor a more earnest and eloquent issuing label than Piano Classics.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Gary Higginson

 

 




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