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John Ogdon: Living with Genius / You've Got a Friend: The Carole King Story, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

John Ogdon: Living with Genius / You've Got a Friend: The Carole King Story, BBC Four

John Ogdon: Living with Genius / You've Got a Friend: The Carole King Story, BBC Four

The short-lived genius of John Ogdon and an unrevealing journey around Carole King

Moscow 1962: John Ogdon (second from right) with President Khrushchev and Vladimir Ashkenazy

It's something of a cliche to regard concert pianists as mad geniuses or nutty professors, and John Ogdon fitted the formula only too well. Born in Nottinghamshire in 1937, he displayed absurdly precocious musical brilliance as a child, and in due course became one of the highest-flying students at the Royal Northern College of Music. When he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1962 (he came equal first with Vladimir Ashkenazy), a star was born and his international career lifted off instantly.

With his science-fiction hair, brainiac beard and heavy-framed glasses, Ogdon really did resemble a concert pianist Matt Groening might have invented for The Simpsons, and to many, his feats of memory and pianistic dexterity seemed almost supernatural ("he was not mortal like us," as writer Brian Masters commented). One of many astounding anecdotes included here described how Ogdon, always ravenous for new musical challenges, received the music for one of Sorabji's notoriously huge and fiendishly difficult compositions, and promptly sight-read the entire piece perfectly straight off the bat.

But while this documentary [***] had gathered plenty of treasurable archive film covering key moments in the pianist's career, some of the most intriguing stuff lay between the lines. His wife Brenda (pictured right with Ogdon), who'd taken a prominent role in organising his private and professional life, was interviewed at length here, but the more she said the less endearing she became. Ogdon suffered a sudden breakdown in 1973, and was diagnosed as manic depressive with schizoid tendencies. He was never the same again, despite a musical resurgence in the late Eighties just before he died, and you had the sense that Brenda never forgave him for depriving her of the affluent high-life his intense concert schedule afforded them. He spent periods recuperating in the Maudsley hospital, which Brenda didn't like much. "It was really irritating for me to see him so happy, surrounded by mental patients," she said. "It was not nice."

Several interviewees, including pianist Stephen Hough and violinist Rodney Friend, were certain that Ogdon's relentless timetable of international concerts had helped bring on his illness, and you won't find today's pianists queueing up to beat his 200 gigs a year. This was a sad, salutary tale.

By contrast, You've Got a Friend: the Carole King Story [**] was a drab hagiography of one of the great songwriters of the rock'n'roll era, and creator of the 25-million-selling album Tapestry. Although all kinds of luminaries popped up to affirm the all-time ineffable genius of Ms King - the film even began with her receiving a lifetime achievement award from an effusive Barack Obama - King herself was present only in clips from previous interviews, which made the whole project feel detached and created by remote control. But King (pictured above) probably doesn't care, since she said she was always just "an old Jewish lady" at heart, happy to stay at home with her cats and her piano.

Several interviewees were certain that Ogdon's relentless timetable of international concerts had helped bring on his illness

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