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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

John Ogdon, Original Piano Works, Tyler Hay

John Ogdon (1937-1989)? You may remember him as a concert pianist. I had (and still have?) his RCA recording of Carl Nielsen's piano music. He was a pianist of great interpretive power. Many may not realize that he was a composer of brilliance, completing more than 200 works in between the demands of his concert career.

We have a chance to appreciate some of his remarkable music on the recent Original Piano Works (Piano Classics PCL10132). On it Tyler Hays tackles Ogdon's very technically demanding and dramatic works with genuine aplomb. I was in the dark about Ogden's music until this. I surely am no longer!

All you need do is put on the CD and listen to the first work there, "Sonata 'Dedicated to my friend Stephen Bishop'".  It is piano music that dramatically enacts a special passion through an intimate understanding of the piano beneath the composer's hands. There is Ivesian brinkmanship, Sorabji-Scriabin-Alkanesque-Ornsteinian Promethean demands on the pianist, and a very convincing modern internal bite that allows for cascading dissonances and structural consonance contrasts. As you listen you grasp the tone-succession syntax as music-speak of a high order. There is a commanding pianist presence to this work that Tyler Hay takes to like duckwater takes to ducks! It is a momentary shock to hear this music for the first time. And indeed subsequent listens fully bear out the first impressions and deepens them.

That initial inner feeling does not at all dissipate in the subsequent program of an additional three works substantial and invigorating. There are some remarkable chromatic fugal mazes happily to negotiate and a good deal else to savor as well. I feel no let down as I listen repeatedly to his "Ballade," his "Kaleidoscope No. 1 (6 Caprices)" and his "Variations and Fugue."

Ogdon is a real discovery for me. If you listen to this program and its excellent performances I think you will be as pleasantly startled as I have been. Make no mistake! If you love a modern piano world as I do, you will feel right at home with Original Piano Works. The music is a modern wonder and the performances nothing short of heroic. Deliberately slapdash piano profundity never sounded so well!


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