Music: Unromantic Romantic

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Boneless Fadeaway. Ogdon and his pianist wife Brenda Lucas, together with their children Annabel, 9, and Richard, 5, live quietly in a town house on London's Regent's Park. There he seems the farthest thing in the world from what many consider him to be: a reincarnation of the flamboyant temperaments of bygone eras. His handshake is a boneless fadeaway. His response to a lengthy conversational thrust of a close friend is likely to range from a noncommittal "Mmmmmmm," to a rare "Very interesting." Brenda recalls that when she first met him at music school, he hardly said a word, just kept following her around. "He was just there, quietly, for about four years," she says. "It wasn't very romantic—but it became romantic."

Ogdon's "shy bear" image helps camouflage an intense inner life, great dedication, intellect and sweeping ambition. Ogdon, in fact, is bidding hard to join a select though all but vanished company of virtuoso pianist-composers. At the close of the 19th and in the early 20th century, the musical type culminated in a series of men who combined powerful and poetic performing styles with highly idiosyncratic ways of writing for the piano—Rachmaninoff as well as Liszt, Busoni and Scriabin. Closer to the present time, the line seems to have ended with Prokofiev and Bartók. All of them, for better or worse, were musicians of originality and vision who made concertgoing fresh and exciting. Though Ogdon has still to make it as a composer, there is no doubt at all about the excitement of going to one of his concerts.

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