JOHN OGDON, PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1 ‘SPECIAL’
JONES HALL HOUSTON, JANUARY 29th 1973
“The Walk to the Paradise Garden”
Piano Concerto No. 1
“AIso Sprach Zarethustra”
REVIEW by ANN HOLMES (Pine Arts Staff), HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1973
Lawrence Foster, the Houston Symphony’s maestro who has been making some rather special music with pianist-composer John Ogdon in England brought Ogdon home with him this week to play an American premiere together.
It was Ogdon’s own Piano Concerto No. 1 which be had bounced successfully off Loudoners’ ears in a world premiere two years ago and committed to Angel Records since then — all with Foster.
Houstonians this week are hearing it live in America for the first time with Ogdon as usual playing the dramatic piano portions.
Taking its place in a program with Delius and Richard Strauss, the Ogdon piece was compelling, thanks to its almost frentic thrust. It is piquant and even witty along with its sense of mass and scale.
Burly, grizzle-grey haired Ogdon, sitting bear-like upon what seemed a stamp-sized piano bench, has created a dramatic and striking work, making rich use of the total orchestral resource. Naturally enough be has provided the pianist with a challenging assignment full of impressive chromatic runs, and a pleasing cadenza — all within the fairly conventional bounds of the romantic concerto.
Though the work analytically has a complex but consistent thematic concern, the Ogdon concerto emerges as a piece with percussive contemporary feeling, yet a perky suggestion of the French composers of the 20’s.
Yet there is more mass and substance there and a grand willingness to drive the piano as a percussion instrument along with the full noisy togetherness of the whole band.
Traveling with its own ready made virtuoso who is rather ‘up’ on the work, the Ogdon concerto ought to be the delight of conductors eager to show an interest in contemporary music. This is not only an interesting and admirable work, but it shouldn’t frighten away the most timorous of musical wayfarers.
Foster had prepared it well with this orchestra, having played it first with his Royal Philharmonic.
The verbose Strauss “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” after intermission, was far less engaging in this rendition for its rather untidy edges here and there. The brass work was tentative occasionally, the string attack at one point was off. Though it contains examples of that Bavarian composer’s ringingly luminous use of the orchestra, “Zarathustra,” with its attempt to distill the philosophy of Nietzsche into one longish tone poem, is never that magnetic. This, despite the fact that “2001” made good use of some opening measures.
Delius’ “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” opened the concert on a familiar, somewhat sentimental note, well enough played, but hardly the match for the Haydn symphony it replaced for reasons of rehearsal scheduling.