John Ogdon: videos of an extraordinary pianist
In anticipation of BBC Four’s John Ogdon documentary on Friday, we take a look at some tantalising glimpses of the pianist’s superlative gift on film
Pianist John Ogdon died 25 years ago this summer – an extraordinary talent, his technical abilities, musical command and incredible sight-reading facility ensured his place in the pantheon of the true piano greats. Such was his fame, that his return to the concert stage in 1983 was covered by the major news programmes on the BBC and ITV.
Ogdon studied at the Royal Northern College of Music where his fellow students included composers Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He was just 25 when he entered the famous International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1962, where he won joint first prize with Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. Renowned as an interpreter of late-Romantic repertoire, Ogdon made dozens of recordings, including an acclaimed version of Busoni’s Piano Concerto, a piece he had performed in his debut London appearance at the 1958 Proms.
Too often, however, writers on John Ogdon have tended towards writing about his mental health problems rather than focusing on his brilliance at the keyboard. As the BBC prepares to show a brand new documentary on Ogdon this Friday, John Ogdon: Living with Genius, we present some wonderful videos that show the pianist’s insightful artistry, plus a clip from the forthcoming BBC documentary.
This television programme of Ogdon playing Liszt’s Dante Sonata (both parts are above) was first broadcast by the BBC soon after his triumph at the London Liszt Competition in 1961. Here, Ogdon is technically masterful – just marvel at his octave work and the way his hands dart around the keyboard; even with the below-par sound quality here, it’s possible to appreciate Ogdon’s exceptional phrasing and exquisite touch. Ogdon was at the start of his international career, just before his success in Moscow in 1962.
In 1976, Ogdon was invited back to the Great Hall in the Moscow Conservatoire to give this superb recital (above). His shimmering, lithe playing in Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit almost seems at odds with his slightly clumsy stage manner and the luminscent, ringing tones in the Liszt B minor Sonata are as if from another world. Captivating and unforgettable.
Above, you can watch archive material from the 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition plus interviews with Ogdon’s wife Brenda Lucas and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy in this clip from the forthcoming BBC documentary, John Ogdon: Living with Genius.
John Ogdon: Living with Genius is broadcast on Friday 6 June on BBC Four at 7:30pm
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