> Tchaikovsky , Liszt. Chopin :Solomon [JW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Etude in F minor La leggierezza
Au bord d’une source
Hungarian Rhapsody No 15 Rakoczy March
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Polonaise No 3 Op 40 No 1 Military
Polonaise in A Flat major Op 53 Heroic
Fantasie Op 49
Etude Op 25 No 3
Etude Op 10 No 8
Etude Op 25 No 1
Solomon, piano
Halle Orchestra
Hamilton Harty
Recorded 1929-1932
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110680 [74’34]


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It’s something of an exaggeration for Naxos to claim that this 1929 recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto is "legendary." It’s true that the performance is distinctive, individual and far removed from the tub thumping melodrama of other less scrupulous and musicianly performers. Nevertheless even in terms of the Solomon discography the 1949 Philharmonia traversal, conducted by Issay Debrowen (who once famously said of a Solomon performance "My God, so many right notes…"), and now on Testament, has always been the better known of the two. But the Naxos release does very usefully bring together all the pianist’s early recordings for Columbia – this three-year group of recordings was all that was issued and in 1941 he began recording for HMV.

Solomon first went into the recording studio in 1929 for a series of solo discs that was never passed for publication but which were remade the following year. Between the rejected first set and the 1930 remakes comes the Tchaikovsky Concerto, made in the Central Hall, Westminster with the then leading British orchestra, the Halle, conducted by Hamilton Harty. Solomon’s Tchaikovsky was famously faithful and elegant with a fascinatingly aristocratic mien and seldom combustible. The Halle’s very distinctive string playing – much portamento, frequently three or four slides in a musical paragraph - and its unmistakable woodwind section provide considerable orchestral pleasures as well. There is much less plush to the sound and it is sectionally more disparate than some of its continental counterparts.

The remainder of Naxos’ recital comprises Liszt and Chopin. The former is of rigorous but not unfeeling clarity and control. The Hungarian Rhapsody is especially impressive with its skirling treble runs and some thunderous but not effortful bass chords. His Chopin shows us the great player to come – the Chopin recordings in the 1940s are amongst the greatest ever committed to disc – and is most impressive on its own terms. The Rakoczy March Polonaise is not excessively fast – and at this slower tempo is playful, with clarity, and with great vertical depth in chordal passages. The F minor Fantasie is characterised by a perfect exploration of the work’s initial inwardnesses and also by avoidance of unnecessary rubato. Maybe, here and there, he lays slightly too much stress on the middle voices at the expense of the treble. But the A flat major Etude is especially successful, with Solomon beautifully bringing out and sustaining the melody line.

An identical selection is on Pearl (Gemm CD 9478), a disc I’ve not heard. Naxos has coped well with some semi-intractable recording faults and the transfers are by Mark Obert-Thorn and are convincing and attractive. Few pianists deserved the soubriquet "great" more than Solomon and this inexpensive disc in the Great Pianists series will go some way to showing why.

Jonathan Woolf

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