Beethoven, Schubert: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor); 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO 80; Piano Sonata in C minor, D958

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Schubert
WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Emperor); 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C minor, WoO 80; Piano Sonata in C minor, D958
PERFORMER: John Ogdon (piano); BBC Northern SO/Jascha Horenstein
Several flaws disqualify this account of the Emperor Concerto from the benchmark sweepstakes – the source material is afflicted by a high frequency perhaps resulting from sonic wear, especially near the beginning and end (elsewhere the recorded sound is nicely balanced and rounded), and in the finale John Ogdon is two bars early for one entrance. These unfortunate moments notwithstanding, this is a cogent, beautiful and satisfying performance. Jascha Horenstein offers a mellow, beguilingly melodic treatment of Beethoven’s grand concerto, and Ogdon ambles comfortably, with a hint of the joyful innocence more commonly found in performances of Mozart than in those of Beethoven. Moments that often sound aggressive – the F minor outburst leading to the climax of the first movement’s development section, or the modulatory passage of the finale beginning in E minor – Ogdon treats with transparent delicacy. The performance as a whole is sunny and unforced but not as thoroughly engaged as the poetic and sparkling Murray Perahia/ Bernard Haitink recording. The same unhurried but poised breadth underlies Ogdon’s account of the C minor Variations. In Schubert’s great C minor Sonata he creates a noble, craggy impression. Sviatoslav Richter’s unrivalled recording of the work makes Ogdon sound unrelievedly taut in the first movement and suggests that the younger pianist is too hurried in the last two movements to convey either the music’s sentiment or the correct lilt in the finale’s treacherously fast accompanimental chords. Even so, Ogdon’s integrity and conviction result in a memorable performance. No pianophile should miss this disc. David Breckbill