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Jacques Ogg, Cinco de Mayo

Jacques Ogg, harpsichordist
Jacques Ogg

available at Amazon
Antonio Soler, Fandango, 12 Sonatas, Jacques Ogg

available at Amazon
Antoine Forqueray, Suites 1-5, Jacques Ogg

Louis Couperin and Jean-Henri d'Anglebert, Suites, Jacques Ogg

available at Amazon
J. S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Jacques Ogg
(released on October 1, 1996)
With this year's season of free concerts at the Library of Congress winding down toward summer, Ionarts got its Baroque fix last night with a recital by Dutch harpsichordist Jacques Ogg. A performer educated at the Amsterdam Conservatory, where he studied with Gustav Leonhardt among others, Ogg now teaches at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. He has released a vast discography -- largely with chamber and larger ensembles, some solo -- much of it no longer (or never?) available in the United States and, in some cases, elsewhere. (Many of his recordings were made by the Dutch label Globe Records.) A specialist in both harpsichord and fortepiano, Ogg owns some cool instruments, but not surprisingly did not risk bringing one across the ocean for his Washington recital. Instead, he played an instrument by Washington's own Thomas and Barbara Wolf, dated 2005. Of course, a lot of people were out guzzling cerbeza for Cinco de Mayo, which left the auditorium scarcely half full. Those of us who opted for music were rewarded by much skillful -- but not entirely flawless -- playing applied to a selection of pieces as obscure (as a musicologist, I think of this as a compliment) as it was delightful.

The first half featured the best examples of Ogg's technique and taste in music, beginning with Jean-Henri d'Anglebert's D minor suite, from Pièces de clavecin (1689). Ogg played the Prélude movement with appropriate rhythmic freedom, adding nice ornamentation with his delicate touch. His renditions of the other movements had a strong and consistent pulse, except for the unfortunate tendency to slow down endings almost to a standstill. There was not much flashy playing in the d'Anglebert suite, but the musical sense of the Sarabande grave and Chaconne en rondeau were hypnotic. We heard more fireworks in the virtuosic G minor passacaglia from Georg Muffat's Apparatus Musico-Organisticus (1690). Based on an 8-measure pattern, this piece is harmonically daring right from the beginning. Over those increasingly strange chromatic shifts, each variation's challenge -- contrapuntal exchanges, runs, trills, even a gigue-like dance -- was handled deftly by Ogg.

The most difficult work on the program, however, was by Antoine Forqueray. I last heard the complex music of this legendary 18th-century gamba player performed by Paolo Pandolfo at Dumbarton Oaks. Shortly after Forqueray died, his son or his wife (scholars are divided over who precisely) arranged some of his music for harpsichord. Pandolfo actually played some of the movements from the suite that Ogg chose, the first one, in D minor. As was the common practice in the 18th century, all of the movements are programmatic, musical depictions of people known to the composer. The odd first movement (Allemande: La Laborde) is set very low on the keyboard, making it quite somber. At least some of the movements sound like they had doubles -- written-out embellished versions -- by Forqueray himself. There are some exceedingly virtuosic moments, handled well by Ogg, especially the wild chords and buzzing multiple trills of the penultimate movement, La Portugaise (Ogg elected not to play the suite's final movement, La Couperin.) The Portuguese woman depicted must have been very loquacious, or perhaps a sharp-tongued shrew.

Jacques Ogg, harpsichordist, Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium, May 5, 2006The second half of the program was of less interest. Ogg put together a group of pieces by Antonio Soler, three brief sonatas and two even briefer preludes that introduced two of the sonatas. The style, looking ahead to the high classical period, is transparent, dominated by melody, featuring simple chords like Alberti bass patterns for the harmony. These mostly pleasant -- but not all that absorbing -- pieces were balanced by the anguished, impassioned music of C. P. E. Bach. One of the famous fantasias (E-flat major, H. 348) was made of short improvisatory sections, beginning with big arpeggiated chords and followed by fanciful melodic escapades laced with chromatic flavors and punctuated by dramatic fully diminished 7th chords. This is music that calls for a technical player. What Jacques Ogg lacked at times, perhaps someone like Lang Lang could provide. Far more successful were three of C. P. E.'s character pieces, musical portraits like Forqueray's, from Petites Pièces pour le Clavecin. Jacques Ogg -- avuncular in his impeccable three-piece suit, spectacles, bald head, and bearded face, pleasantly rounded -- then treated us to a Geminiani encore, a movement marked "Tendrement" from one of the Pièces De Clavecin.

Only two concerts remain in the Library of Congress's season, on the upcoming two Fridays. On May 12, Morton Subotnick will perform Until Spring Revisited, which he describes as "a virtuosic double-laptop 8-channel improvisation." On May 19, violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist André-Michel Schub will give a recital of Mozart sonatas, William Walton's violin sonata from 1950, and the world premiere of a new violin sonata by Bright Sheng.

1 comment:

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