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John Ogdon’s place as one of the 20th-century’s most mercurial pianists is assured. As a composer of genius he is much less appreciated, especially the range of his output. There are, as Tyler Hay records in his admirable notes, around 200 compositions, including four operas, an oratorio, solo sonatas for piano, flute, violin and cello, piano miniatures and transcriptions, two piano concertos and a string quartet. This disc – in what I earnestly hope will be a series – picks four of Ogdon’s solo piano works, three of which are not otherwise available.

The one work that does have a rival version is the Sonata ‘Dedicated to my friend Stephen Bishop’ (1959-61) which Ogdon recorded for EMI in 1972. I have his live 1979 recording (currently unavailable) made at Bloomington University. Hay’s performance is phenomenally good, a little slower than the composer, particularly in the complex central Andante, full of haunted textures and extremes of register. The outer movements, initiated by a four-note ostinato, are exhilarating, performed – and recorded – with impeccable clarity.

In the Ballade (1969), the pianist’s repertoire influenced the textures, but not the flow –that is Ogdon’s own. The same is true of the Six Caprices of Kaleidoscope No 1 (1967-70, revised 1988), which include two Preludes and Fugues – the second ‘on a theme by Harry Birtwistle’, a marvellously gritty, witty tribute to his Manchester Group friend – a deceptive Barcarolle, and the beautiful, impressionistic ‘A Winter’s Day’. The disc ends with what is arguably Ogdon’s most sustained essay in the transcendental pianism he so often deployed in the music of others, the wonderful Variations and Fugue (1960-3). What a terrific disc.

GUY RICKARDS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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