John Ogdon was one of the great interpreters of Ferruccio Busoni's keyboard music in the first stage of its latter-day revival, and his EMI Angel recording of Busoni's Piano Concerto, Op. 39, can be said to have "made" that work as a viable, if impractical, concert staple. Between that triumph in 1967 and the recordings on Altarus' Busoni: Piano Works, made in 1988 -- the last full year of Ogdon's short life -- there were a host of detours and disappointments for the pianist. A nervous breakdown or two, long hospitalizations, longer absences from the concert stage, and a comeback received lukewarmly by critics were all hallmarks of a career that would have stopped lesser men cold. Even at the worst stages of his illness, Ogdon routinely practiced at least three hours a day on his hospital's Steinway. The decline of technique attributed to Ogdon during his latter years, no matter what it might have been in one concert setting or another, is simply not in evidence on this Altarus reissue of a disc originally made for the long-extinct English label Continuum.These are three of the hardest pieces in piano literature -- the notorious two-hand version of the Fantasia Contrappuntistica; Busoni's shimmering, mysterious Fantasia nach Bach; and his fiery and frantically intense Toccata, among Busoni's last works for the piano. In the Toccata alone, Ogdon briefly gets his fingers tangled up in the opening "Preludio," but other than that the music is all there. It is played brilliantly for the most part, but that is not what one turns to Ogdon for in Busoni. Of the many pianists who have braved the stormy waters of Busoni's piano music, Ogdon seemed the best at evoking the alchemical, Mephistophelian side of the composer, as opposed to his more balanced, classicistic profile, the latter aspect well explored on record by Busoni's pupil Egon Petri and realized efficiently by Alfred Brendel in his few Busoni recordings. The music roars out of the mystery of darkness as Ogdon pilots his craft through the dark and turbulent seas of Busoni's demonic, and often sublimely beautiful, harmonic combinations, trills, and rumbling low-register chords.
Altarus' Busoni: Piano Works with John Ogdon isn't just a single recording among many of the now well-known, high-intensity keyboard literature -- it is a singular entry all its own, the combination of composer and interpreter leading to a specific experience that is unique. Altarus is to be applauded for making this great recording available again; the sound is likewise excellent, except that the Toccata was recorded at a different session from the rest and is a tad over-reverberant
|Fantasia contrappuntistica (I), for piano ("Edizione definitiva"), KiV 256||John Ogdon||32:00|
|Fantasia nach J. S. Bach, for piano, KiV 253||John Ogdon||14:09|
|Toccata: Preludio, Fantasia, Ciaccona, for piano, KiV 287||John Ogdon||13:55|