Rachmaninov, Busoni

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Busoni,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Testament
WORKS: Études-tableaux, Opp. 33 & 39; Sonatina No. 6; Elegy No. 4; Variations & Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor
PERFORMER: John Ogdon (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SBT 1295 ADD
You certainly get a lot of notes – and decibels – for your money, and the 1971 (Rachmaninov) and 1961 (Busoni) recordings are still vivid, even if the piano sounds as if it has taken some punishment. The not-always-gentle giant could play anything you put in front of him. He had an anorak’s appetite for curiosities, preferably with a lot of notes, like the rather clotted bravura pieces by Busoni on this disc – essentially encores to take an audience’s breath away at the end of an evening.

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Ogdon seemed less interested in character or poetry; at least, he didn’t communicate much of either, and the quieter passages in Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux, which, after all, the composer himself said were full of imagery, are, frankly, expressionless. In Op. 33, the first piece sounds brusque and businesslike, the second almost frantic, the sixth a scramble, without phrasing, and in the seventh, he tends to snatch at notes.

The dark side of Rachmaninov comes over much better, and the eighth and ninth pieces of Op. 33 are compellingly tragic and doom-laden. Op. 39, which contains the better music, is, unfortunately, less well-played on the whole, and dominated by a feeling of violence – in the fifth piece, you almost sense that Ogdon wanted to hurt the piano.

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Rachmaninov’s music may require strength as well as athleticism, but it is very gracefully written, too. To my mind, the pianist who most effectively puts that across is Nikolai Lugansky, who can also do justice to the many moments of passion without sounding brutal. Adrian Jack