This cd presents Ogdon playing some of the most difficult 19th centruy piano music, recorded live around 1970.
The Liszt first concerto, when taken at a normal tempo, is not a particularly difficult work.That is to say, it's difficulties are very pianistic, and as long as one possesses a fair degree of facility at the keyboard, it is not terribly difficult to play. However, to play it at the speed Ogdon takes it requires a technique of such superhuman proportions that very few people possess. From the open octaves, Ogdon presents an authorative, titanic reading that makes such acclaimed virtuosi as Richter and Argerich sound amateurish.
The way he glides through the scales, furiously pounds the octaves and effortlessly finds his way through the tricky apeggiated passages of the piece is unprecedented. A slow movement of such natural expressiveness that it tugs at the heart strings gives way to a finale played with such infectious excitement and dynamism (at a tempo at least twice as fast argerich) that I have never heard anything that can compare to it. Every note is clear, and added to that he has an admirable disregard for the odd split note in chords. The greatest bit, for me, is at the very end of the finale, where the pianist is required to rapidly cross their hands. Ogdon was so, erm, large that hand crossing was a virtual impossibility for him, so instead of playing semiquaver triplets he just plays it a chord. It is so obvious how he is struggling with this passage, but it creates such a feeling of excitment that by the time we get to the octave trill, the listener is breathless. Then, the insanely fast downward run is like an orgasm! It is such a release of tension that you can see why the audience starts clapping before the piece has ended. It is fantastic.
The Liszt second concerto is a marvellously lyrical reading of a great work, and his playing is admirably supported by Colin Davis, who keeps him in check to a certain extent.
La Campanella and Harmonies du soir are not anything more than ordinary (for better recordings of these infrequently played warhorses, I recommend Leslie Howard on Hyperion) but Mephisto is a differentr matter.
He pulls out all the stops in this live QEH performance, and throws all caution to the wind as he hammers through this horribly difficult work. The most amazing part is th notorious leaps at the end, which he plays with such speed and accuracy that it makes me sweat, even more impressive when you take into account that this is live!
This is a great CD, and hats off to BBC for its release.