Craig Ogden’s easy manner immediately puts an audience at ease. With his comfortable assuredness and witty repartee, Ogden is able to facilitate an unusual sense of intimacy in such a large auditorium as St. David’s Hall, Cardiff. Indeed, seeing Ogden in concert is like being transported to an old friend’s living room, where you sit and chat, watching them play guitar – extremely well. Interspersing his performance with amusing anecdotes and explanations of classical guitar technique, he quickly and easily won the audience’s favour.

Craig Ogden
Craig Ogden

Ogden performed a varied programme, juxtaposing several standards from the classical guitar repertoire (Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra was a particular highlight) with newer and more experimental pieces, including a couple of surprises not advertised in the programme. Opening with a rendition of J.S. Bach’s Prelude to the Lute Suite no. 4, Ogden displayed his technical mastery before showing a lighter side with Macedonian composer Miroslav Tadic’s Walk Dance, a lively piece based on a traditional Macedonian dance. Unfortunately there were some minor glitches in the performances of Albéniz’s ‘Sevilla’ and ‘Asturias’ from Suite Española, two of the most well known pieces in the classical guitar repertoire, yet this did not detract significantly from the overall performance. Albéniz originally wrote these pieces for piano, each meant to represent a different geographical region of Spain. In reality, Albéniz was mainly influenced by the flamenco guitar rhythms of the southern Andalucian region. They therefore work particularly well in transcription for guitar, perhaps accounting for their enduring popularity.

The latter part of the concert was made up by more recent compositions. Two of these, composed by Gary Ryan, a colleague and friend of Ogden’s from the Royal College of Music, showed two very different sides to the instrument, which is more commonly associated with the Romantic repertoire of the ‘Golden Age’ of classical guitar. Lough Caragh, a nostalgic, emotive piece clearly very personal to the composer, is influenced by the traditional Irish ballad. In contrast, Rondo Rodeo is a tongue-in-cheek rendition of an American hoedown complete with honky-tonk piano and animal noises (horses’ hooves played with the nails against the side of the guitar). This really served to demonstrate the versatility of the instrument, and showed me that there is more to classical guitar than the standard Spanish/Brazilian repertoire I had heard previously. Ogden performed his own composition as an encore, prefacing it with a statement of his compositional inexperience. This was however, a pleasing end to the concert, restoring a mellow, relaxed mood after the excitement of Rondo Rodeo.

Having heard such rave reviews for Ogden espousing his great talent (Ogden has been heralded as the next Julian Bream or John Williams), and because of his success in the UK classical charts (achieving No. 1s for his two most recent CDs), my expectations for this concert were high. Ogden’s renditions of the classics of the repertoire have been described as ‘innovative’, yet unfortunately I failed to be struck by any sense that this was an exciting reinterpretation of the classics in this instance. Technically, Ogden’s performance was impressive, but I felt the Albéniz in particular sometimes lacked emotional depth. What Ogden did manage to do was to transcend a divide in the normal formal concert setting, engaging conversationally with the audience. For his followers, who made up the majority of the audience, this was well received. For an outsider like myself, it initially caused confusion: was I in a guitar tutorial? A gig? A classical concert? Yet this approach did work in light of the eclectic mix of music he performed. In this way, Ogden also successfully demonstrated the flexibility of the instrument, with exciting and technically innovative new pieces. If you are seeking a relaxing, enjoyable afternoon of entertainment, Ogden is more than up to the task.