Solomon = Works of BEETHOVEN, SCHUMANN, BACH, CHOPIN, BRAHMS – Audite (2 CDs)

by | Oct 24, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Solomon = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 “”Moonlight”; SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9; BACH: Italian Concerto in F Major; CHOPIN: Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49; Nocturne in B-flat Minor, Op. 9, No. 1; Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31; BRAHMS: Intermezzo in E-flat Minor, Op. 118, No. 6; Intermezzo in E Major, Op. 116, No. 4; Rhapsody No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 79. No. 1 – Solomon, piano

Audite 23.422 2 (2 CDs), 66:45, 54:42 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

For connoisseurs of the keyboard, the name Solomon (1902-1988) raises memories of masterly and intellectual virtuosity of the first order, brought to a catastrophic early demise by physical paralysis in 1956. Solomon Cutner exemplified the pinnacle of British pianism, a consummate interpreter whose dramatic and lyrical powers made him the London equivalent of Claudio Arrau. A pupil of Mathilde Verne and Lazare-Levy, Solomon developed extraordinary muscular power and thoroughly independent, balanced hand and arm position. His unyielding sense of tempo contributed to a rock-like gravity in his interpretations, similar to those of Lipatti, identifiable for their rigorous pulsation. The shocking clarity of line could easily have provided a model for Glenn Gould. Yet above all, Solomon possessed the poet’s fascination with transparent nuance and colored rhythm, all the while driving in the strictest sense to the intention of the composer.

The Audite label resurrects RIAS studio inscriptions from 23 February 1956 of Beethoven’s C Major Sonata, Bach, and Chopin; and the 24 February 1956 recordings of Beethoven’s Moonlight, Brahms, and Schumann. The two Beethoven sonatas complement each other intellectually and emotionally: the C Major offers clean lines, swaggering bouts of dynamic contrast, and internally wrought conjunctive harmony. We hear Haydn’s art lifted to a new and audacious sonority, often explosive in those passing phrases that might, in lesser hands, serve a mere bridge-work. The Moonlight Sonata regains its former mystery, a sense of inevitability, and a breathless velocity in the final movement. Ever the poise and classical balance in Beethoven reveals themselves as crucial aspects of his fervently subjective passions.

The resonant performance of Schumann’s Carnaval relieves it of sentimentality but retains its wistful willful playfulness, as in Solomon’s brilliant rendition of Arlequin and the breathed halting approach to the Valse noble. Solomon often highlights an individual tone that reflects the ASCH sequence of “dancing letters” that infiltrates the whole cycle. Eusebius gives us tender, tragic intimacy; Florestan provides hallucinated butterflies, hectic, flippant dervishes of color. Solomon’s Coquette must be Zsa Zsa Gabor in John Huston’s production of Moulin Rouge. Can Schumann sound like Scarlatti?  Try Solomon’s Replique. Chiarina generates a stately dignity worthy of  the later march against the Philistines, while Chopin appears twice – first a la Schumann, then more subdued, as himself. With the Reconnaissance episode we enter the realm of Schumann’s blatantly virtuosic character pieces, of which Pantalon et Colombine, Valse Allemande, and Paganini shine. Such sober poetics! Exquisitely poised, Promenade rings with poetic excitement, a maerchen in Schumann’s best march-waltz genre, a fairytale of grandeur and epic aspirations condensed into a genie’s bottle. The tiger’s Pause leads to the grand finale, which really should have been played  before a live audience to cement its absolutely infectious series of technical and aesthetic victories.

The Italian Concerto only makes us rue that Solomon did not inscribe a fuller Bach legacy, given the easy fluidity of his performance and the stunning clarity of line. The facile shifts of texture–the ripieno and the continuo–emerge buoyantly and flamboyantly, only to yield to an Andante of sculpted beauty in extended arioso, fastidious as it is heartfelt. Solomon’s treatment of ornaments becomes a lesson in itself, as does his pedaling. Solomon serves Presto in a champagne bottle, evanescent, frothy with polyphonic duets and liberated roulades.

The Chopin group opens with a direful entrance to the F Minor Fantasie, here a close kin to Funeral March Sonata. The concessions to light appear in patchy phrases and truncated bits of melody, while the martial solemnity reigns. When the cascading arpeggios ensue, we recall that Solomon inscribed one of the most awesome of Berceuse recordings; here, the fiery drama casts a series of chiseled contours at us, the passion increasing at each repetition. The relatively placid middle section does little to alleviate the ferocity of the demons unleashed in Solomon’s sturdily inflamed vision. The Nocturne hints at intimacies and shared secrets, the very stuff of Scriabin and Tristan. The care which Solomon applies to harmonic shifts tells us his vertical thinking dominates every bar. The lithe fluency of the Scherzo may seem to diminish its own diabolisms, but the performance enjoys incredible finish, an absolutely burnished patina. The fleetness rivals Michelangeli, the plastic contour Horowitz.

The Brahms group implodes Chopin’s open hysteria and erotic mania into condensed spaces, only sporadically permitting unbridled passion its moment in the sun. Solomon’s pointedly sensuous tone invites comparison to Gieseking, but the colors run more deeply, the block chords more massive. The E-flat Minor Intermezzo catches us in its twisted throes, only to relent and subside in gloomy rivulets, harmonically presaging moves in Debussy. The E Major Intermezzo as played by Solomon becomes the Brahms analogy to Debussy’s Des pas de la neige, rife with angst and disturbed moments of recalled serenity. Listen to the bass chords followed by rising arpeggios that outline the ground-motif. Finally, the B Minor Rhapsody, by Solomon a colossal struggle of dark and light for supremacy, all accomplished in the name of sonata-form!

A splendid document, these two discs, a brilliant momento mori for the most accomplished deepest thinker among the older generation of great British pianists.

— Gary Lemco

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