Visions De L'amen Messiaen: Visions De L'amen

Explore Records: EXP0013
Dominy Clements, MusicWeb International

This recording was first released on Argo in 1971, and was one of the first recordings of Messiaen’s great cycle of pieces for two pianos.  Somewhat amazingly, this is its first international CD release.  John Ogdon was an acclaimed interpreter of Messiaen, having already recorded the Vingt Regards for Decca in the same studio in 1969, and of course his duo with Brenda Lucas knew international renown...

Starting with the sound quality, this 1970 recording does inevitably have a little tape hiss ... if you are interested in this disc it will be for the performance rather than blistering modern sound.  In fact, this recording wears its years like a silk cravat, a little old-fashioned, but still very distinguished.  Separation between the two pianos is good, without being too wide, and the ensemble between the players blends as one where you would hope and expect.  Visions de l’Amen is one of those elusive works which requires not only superb technical control and a seamless, symbiotic pairing between the players, but also that Catholic sense of mystery and awe with everything between heaven and earth.  Where it counts most, Ogdon and Lucas are right up there, transporting us, as the music dictates, to regions beyond.  From the opening Amen de la Création the low chords which build in a massive chorale are the vastness of space or the solidity of granite, depending on how you set your jaw – clenched in suspense, or open with awe.  The duo pulls no punches with the brutal nature of Amen des étoiles, de la planète à l’anneau, and the heartrending drama of the Amen de l’Agonie de Jésus is fully exploited.  The central Amen du Désir is most moving – gentle ecstasy subdued by the energetic passions of love, and with 2:30 of coda which should be mounted and on exhibition in the Louvre.

Comparing Ogdon/Lucas and Hill/Frith, I get the sensation that the work is more settled, more thoroughly digested by the more recent pairing.  The grand scale is all there, and all of the atmosphere and drama.  With every note weighed and thought through Hill and Frith loose a little of the sense of wonder which Ogdon and Lucas seem to create.  It’s hard to define, and I do love the Unicorn CD, but take almost any moment and the beauty is in the playing, rather than in the music.  In some indefinable way Ogdon and Lucas, even despite some moments of slightly dodgy ensemble, convey Messiaen’s mystic message more effectively.  They certainly sound more French, which is perhaps the secret.  The ghosts of Berlioz, Dukas, Debussy, Ravel and Satie sit on Messiaen’s shoulder in the final Amen de la Consommation, and they were all crowded into that studio on New Year’s Eve 1970, joyously turning the pages for John Ogdon and Brenda Lucas.


Carnival of the Animals Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals

EMI Classics for Pleasure: 82233
Rob Barnett, MusicWeb International

Ogdon and Lucas join the CBSO under Louis Frémaux in 1971 to take us through the witty vignettes of The Carnival of the Animals..  There is plenty of ear-tickling detail... full of fascination  The Terribly brief Allegro appassionato does not mess around...  Lots going for this good inexpensive single disc Saint-Saëns collection.


The Piano Music of John Ogdon CD The Piano Music of John Ogdon

Gamut GAM CD 528
Review by Christopher Headington, Gramophone 1992

Sonata No.4, “An American Sonata”
Five Preludes
25 Preludes

Born in 1937, John Ogdon was in his student days a member of the Manchester New Music Group and gave first performances of works by Goehr, Maxwell Davies and himself at a time when radical new music was regarded with deep suspicion by the Establishment.  But later, his meteoric piano career relegated composition to the sidelines, and in any case his creative style did not fit into any particular movement, least of all the Darmstadtian school which had its heyday in the 1960s when he was busily touring the concert circuit.  Consequently, his music remains little known, though he recorded his very difficult Piano Concerto No. 1 for EMI (7/71) and I recall Ashkenazy giving the premiere of an Ogdon piece, written for him, at a Cheltenham Festival recital over 20 years ago.  Then, alas, Ogdon had a nervous breakdown and although he made some recovery he died all too soon in 1989.  Even so, his compositions amount to over 200 in all, including four operas and 30 piano sonatas.

Here, his widow plays some of the piano music, which like some other good music (such as Fauré’s) needs to be played intelligently and lovingly to communicate—which fortunately happens here.  The style is tonal, texturally rich and often declamatory, and although the Bösendorfer Imperial that Brenda Lucas plays has been recorded rather muddily in a London church, that does not seriously get in the way of the music.  Heartfelt, unpredictable both tonally and rhythmically and in its own way compelling, this is the sort of music which, one feels, had to be written.  It makes for some uncomfortable listening, though, for Ogdon’s vision was sometimes on the dark side and occasionally apocalyptic, and in the Five Preludes and Sonatina easy charm is in short supply.  But an attractive directness makes itself felt in the American Fourth Piano Sonata, written in 1984 and dedicated to his “darling Brenda”.  The 25 Preludes (1985) form a key sequence beginning and ending in C major; dedicated to John Paul Getty in thanks for his gift of a Steinway grand piano, they are brief, telling and tuneful pieces, beautifully written for piano and sometimes conceived as tributes to people as different as Dave Bruheck, Daniel Barenhoim and Muzio Clementi.  Give this disc a try if you feel adventurous.


Bloomington review Concert Review, USA Tour

Sunday Herald Times, Bloomington, Indiana

Lucas matched him in lyricism.  Her sensitivity in phrasing was apparent from the first piece on the programme... the beautiful third variation especially was played with great expression... (Rachmaninov) in its final movement, a Tarantella, the long crescendos were perfectly placed... it is difficult to recall when it has been played better... she is a superb professional.