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Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 in Bb Op 73
Beethoven Piano Sonata No 32 in C minor Op 111

John Ogdon (piano)

Halle Orchestra/ Barbirolli (Brahms)


BBC Legends BBC4183-2


These performances date from the mid-sixties, and the recorded sound can be muddy and airless, so that Ogdon's lyricism emerges better than his famed power and virtuosity. For those who might listen to this disc for the repertoire, the interpretations are a frustrating mixture of greatness and fallibility.


Ogdon is remarkably messy in the concerto (a passage in the slow movement starting at 4' 41” especially), although its dense solo part does make it notoriously difficult to produce a flawless performance. Some of the most obvious virtuosic moments, therefore, such as the opening of the scherzo, or the first movement cadenza, lack the expected drama. This is, however, indeed a ‘big' performance. Barbirolli and the Halle are sensitive; there is a fine sense of grandeur and structure. The lightness of the first movement second subject and of the solo part in the finale are the highlights.


Similarly, the Beethoven sonata begins with a curiously cautious slow introduction, in which Ogdon unleashes his full power only in the arpeggios; the first movement proper is often untidy and out of focus; not until the lead up to the coda does Ogdon seem to settle, letting the long final melodic line sing out in a moment of true sublimity. Nevertheless, we never lose sight of the spirit of Beethoven, of the doomed but necessary struggle for understanding and existence. The best thing on this CD, predictably, is Ogdon's Beethoven slow movement, where the recorded sound is also at its best. Here Ogdon plays with a deep and profoundly spiritual understanding of those inner struggles; the variations intensify and lead ever more inward; the treble tone is of great beauty. Ironically, it is the ‘poetic' Ogdon, not the bear-like one, that emerges most strongly from the recital.


The gist of this review could be gleaned from Jeremy Siepmann refreshingly honest liner notes, which theme his essay around the notion of the ‘big pianist', and warn of the disc's shortcomings. In fact, this release must be only for admirers of Ogdon; for others it is a curate's egg.


Ying Chang


It is good to report too that similar reservations were shared on BBC R3's CD Review. Consider instead John Ogdon's recommended Emperor Concerto