LABELS: Marco Polo
WORKS: Passacaglia on DSCH
PERFORMER: Raymond Clarke (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.223545 DDD
Reviewing these discs was a bit like intruding on a gathering of Rosicrucians or Pataphysicians. A whiff of the occult hangs over all of them. Take the disc devoted to the bizarre Italo-Indian composer Sorabji, who wrote vast Gothic-horror piano works with hermetic Latin titles. Then there’s the brilliant and unstable pianist John Ogdon, who played many of Sorabji’s works; he’s the subject of a bizarre ‘In Memoriam’ double-CD set which paints him as a mystic more than a pianist. The third disc contains music by the composer Ronald Stevenson, a friend of Ogdon’s since the pianist’s childhood. Stevenson’s works are similarly apocalyptic in tone and ambitious in size; his Passacaglia on DSCH (Shostakovich’s musical acronym) runs for nigh on eighty minutes. It’s played with truly amazing energy and stamina by Raymond Clarke, one of four acolytes who’ve gathered round the three magi mentioned above. The others are the composer Alistair Hinton, whose works inhabit the same world of foggy mysticism as his mentors; the pianist Donna Amato, who brings similar qualities of endurance and fiery brilliance to Sorabji as Clarke does to Stevenson; and the organist Kevin Bowyer, who, as far as the distant recording allows one to judge, is a player of astonishing abilities.
On the level of performance there’s much to be impressed and amazed by on these discs, not least the performances of Ogdon himself; and if you’re into the kind of books that are shelved under ‘fantasy’ you might enjoy the music. If you’re not, it will just seem grotesque. Sorabji’s pieces are unwieldy, frenzied, aimless, like a cross between a beached whale and a rogue elephant. Stevenson’s are more disciplined, but similarly over-inflated. Amid all this windy pseudo-mysticism, the pieces by Busoni on the Ogdon disc stand out like a beacon of clarity and dignity; which is ironic, as he is in a way the guiding spirit behind all these discs.