The Piano Music of John Ogdon CD Sonata No.4, “An American Sonata” — Sonatina — Five Preludes — 25 Preludes

Born in 1937, John Ogdon was in his student days a member of the Manchester New Music Group and gave first performances of works by Goehr, Maxwell Davies and himself at a time when radical new music was regarded with deep suspicion by the Establishment.  But later, his meteoric piano career relegated composition to the sidelines, and in any case his creative style did not fit into any particular movement, least of all the Darmstadtian school which had its heyday in the 1960s when he was busily touring the concert circuit.  Consequently, his music remains little known, though he recorded his very difficult Piano Concerto No. 1 for EMI (7/71) and I recall Ashkenazy giving the premiere of an Ogdon piece, written for him, at a Cheltenham Festival recital over 20 years ago.  Then, alas, Ogdon had a nervous breakdown and although he made some recovery he died all too soon in 1989.  Even so, his compositions amount to over 200 in all, including four operas and 30 piano sonatas.

Here, his widow plays some of the piano music, which like some other good music (such as Fauré’s) needs to be played intelligently and lovingly to communicate—which fortunately happens here.  The style is tonal, texturally rich and often declamatory, and although the Bösendorfer Imperial that Brenda Lucas plays has been recorded rather muddily in a London church, that does not seriously get in the way of the music.  Heartfelt, unpredictable both tonally and rhythmically and in its own way compelling, this is the sort of music which, one feels, had to be written.  It makes for some uncomfortable listening, though, for Ogdon’s vision was sometimes on the dark side and occasionally apocalyptic, and in the Five Preludes and Sonatina easy charm is in short supply.  But an attractive directness makes itself felt in the American Fourth Piano Sonata, written in 1984 and dedicated to his “darling Brenda”.  The 25 Preludes (1985) form a key sequence beginning and ending in C major; dedicated to John Paul Getty in thanks for his gift of a Steinway grand piano, they are brief, telling and tuneful pieces, beautifully written for piano and sometimes conceived as tributes to people as different as Dave Bruheck, Daniel Barenhoim and Muzio Clementi.  Give this disc a try if you feel adventurous.