Fri, Oct 10, 2003 - Page 19 News List

CD Review

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

All musical enjoyment, it could be argued, is a matter of both taste and temperament. Tastes can be learnt, but temperament can't be changed, presumably. So when there are musical frontiers individuals try to cross but can't, it's probably their temperament that's the real obstacle. I used to have a friend who was a fan of the 1960s giant Captain Beefheart. "If you can cross the Beefheart Barrier," he used to say, "you'll be in paradise." I never managed it unfortunately.

John Ogdon is often described as one of the finest classical pianists ever to have been born in the British Isles. After a celebrity career beginning when he won joint first prize in Moscow's Tchaikovsky Competition in 1962 (his co-winner was Vladmir Ashkenazy), he suffered a breakdown in 1973 from the schizophrenia that had also afflicted his father. He recovered, however, first teaching and giving master classes at Indiana University in the US, then performing again in public in the early 1980s. These magnificent studio recordings of Rachmaninov date from the year before his death, aged 52, in 1989. Why they haven't been issued before isn't explained.

The variety of Rachmaninov's piano music as displayed here may surprise some people. But Ogdon used to love to tackle gargantuan works such as his First Piano Sonata, and resurrect things well-nigh forgotten such as the three early Nocturnes. The explanatory notes by Jeremy Nicholas are particularly astute and give a strong sense of the exceptional phenomenon that, even in his later years, Ogdon was. When this bear-like figure shambled on stage, people knew what to expect -- legendary sight-reading ability, great tenderness and mammoth feats of endurance.

These fine CDs, combining natural lyricism with an unsurpassable technique, contain a wealth of music. They would be an investment to last a lifetime, and are in addition a tribute to an extraordinary man.

The American pianist Lambert Orkis must feel in this recording rather like what the British call a "gooseberry" and the Taiwanese a "lightbulb" -- an intruder on a romantic couple, Andre Previn and Anne-Sophie Mutter. Previn's Tango Song & Dance violin sonata, which opens this CD, was written as a celebration of their intention to marry, the composer reveals in an accompanying joint interview. But the recording is in fact a recital of the works for violin and piano -- by Brahms, Gershwin, Kreisler, Faure and Previn -- that Mutter and Orkis played on their European concert tour last May. Here, however, Previn takes over the piano for the Gershwin item (arrangements of four melodies from (Porgy and Bess), and for his own composition.

These last two pieces might sound slightly "crossover" in character, but in the interview the couple are resolutely opposed to what they clearly consider such unnatural concert exhibitions. Mutter would prefer to climb mountains with a Beijing-born student at the school she funds for young string players, or continue her work against landmines, than "change existing musical material into something which it isn't" -- even for US$1 million a night, which she says she has been offered. On the Three Tenors concerts, Previn tartly remarks "I don't think they need to do that."

Clearly they prefer to incorporate modern trends into new, original compositions. Previn's title piece on this CD, for example, shows strong jazz influence, as well as echoes of Korngold's Violin Concerto in the slow movement. The whole CD could be said to represent the couple's answer to "crossover" -- do what you do as well as you can and just hope that people will enjoy it.

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