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Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto in B flat minor, Op. 23 (1875)
LISZT: Etude in F minor, G. 57/2, "La Leggierezza" (recorded 1930)
LISZT: Au bord díune source, from Années du Pèlerinage, Première Année, G. 73/4 (recorded 1930)
LISZT: Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15 in A minor, "Rakoczy March" (recorded 1932)
CHOPIN: Polonaise No. 3 in A major, op. 40/1 "Military" (recorded 1932)
CHOPIN: Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49 (recorded 1932
CHOPIN: Etude in F major, Op. 25/3 (recorded 1934)
CHOPIN: Etude in F major, Op. 10/8 (recorded 1934)
CHOPIN: Etude in A flat major, Op. 25/1 (recorded 1932)
CHOPIN: Polonaise in A flat major, Op. 53 "heroic" (recorded 1932)
Solomon, piano
Hallé Orchestra conducted by Hamilton Harty
Recorded November 1929 and February 1930 in the Central Hall, Westminster, UK.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110680 [74.34]

The English pianist Solomon was born Solomon Cutner in the East End of London in 1902. He was extremely precocious, first appearing in public at eight years old, but tragically, his career ended early too, following a stroke at the age of fifty-seven. He died in 1988.

Solomon is remembered as a pianist of exceptional sensitivity and finesse, and these qualities are very much in evidence on this disc. Both in the Tchaikovsky concerto and the solo recital coupled with it the player avoids all showiness for its own sake; virtuosity is there in plenty, but always at the service of the piece (and of the composer) and never simply to demonstrate the playerís technical skills.

When a pianist seeks to show off he usually does so in respect of rapidity and power. Donít make the mistake, then, in thinking that these elements are in short supply here. The opening chords of the Tchaikovsky are as massive and imposing as any you are likely to hear. The tempo chosen keeps the music moving purposefully forward, and indeed this is a characteristic of the interpretation as a whole. The rest of this first movement is full of a kind of febrile energy, with little hanging around, and the playing is at times quite impulsive. Listen to the passage around 11.30 in the first movement as an example of this, but equally, take in the passage around 6.00 Ė where the score is marked p dolce e molto espress (quietly, sweetly and very expressively) Ė as an example of the soloistís way with quite another kind of music. One of the many marvellous things about Solomonís playing is the impression he gives of a great musician totally at the service of the composer. This is emphatically Tchaikovskyís concerto, not Solomonís. Itís true that in one or two places the thundering octaves are not totally fallible and in more modern recording circumstances might have been retaken, but although this playing is a world away from that of Horowitz, for example, the listener really has no worries for the soloistís technical command. The finale is as exciting as in any performance Iíve heard, but itís the slow movement which is the real revelation. The outer sections are beautifully poised with a simplicity of utterance rarely encountered, but the central, faster section is played with a quite extraordinary lightness of touch. Listening to this you would never think that the sound was produced by hammers striking strings. And the purpose of this approach is emphatically not to demonstrate how fast the pianist can get round the notes. Itís perhaps at this point that I should draw attention to the accompaniment which is beautifully moulded and very well played by the Hallé. One gets the impression, too, that Hamilton Harty was completely convinced and at one with the soloistís reading of the work.

When there are so many versions available of standard works such as this Iím not always convinced that the playing of the older masters sufficiently compensates for the antiquated sound. Mark Obert-Thornís restoration is marvellous, however, and in any case Iím happy to say that with this disc I have at last encountered that phenomenon much evoked among lovers of historical recordings, whereby the playing makes you forget, at least for the duration of the disc, the quality of the sound.

For the Tchaikovsky alone, then, I would strongly recommend this inexpensive disc. However, it comes with a forty-two minute recital of Liszt and Chopin solo pieces, including one or two chosen from among the best known works. Lisztís Etude "La Leggierezza" is most brilliantly played in a way which magnificently brings out the musicís nature reflected in the title. If Lisztís March and Chopinís military music seem a little under-characterised at first the suspicion soon passes on subsequent hearings when it becomes plain that the conception of the pieces is on a totally different level of subtlety. Chopinís Etude Op. 10/8 is another example of fast and brilliant playing which manages to draw attention to the composerís achievement rather than to Solomon himself.

This is playing of remarkable accomplishment which typifies the stereotype of the British way of doing things as seen from the Continent: serious, understated, refined, purposeful, bringing about a result which by its nature tends to conceal the required mastery of means.

William Hedley


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