> Beethoven - Bliss [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No 3
Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)

Piano Concerto
Solomon, piano
BBC Symphony Orchestra (Beethoven)
Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (Bliss)
Adrian Boult
Recorded 1943-44
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110682 [71’44]


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Another splendid Naxos Solomon disc, this time of the two Concerto performances recorded during the latter stages of the War of works closely associated with the pianist. He had first played the Beethoven C Minor in 1912 with Henry Wood at Queen’s Hall and his later recording, from his complete cycle, with Herbert Menges and the Philharmonia has tended rather to obscure the qualities of this 1944 traversal which are very considerable indeed. It begins in emphatic form with strong string fortes from Boult alternating with woodwind diminuendos. Solomon himself enters to coruscate with some rhythmic impetus in the left hand from 4’50 – his balancing between the hands is magnificent – and there is evidence everywhere of the superiority and sophistication of his rhythmic and tonal reserves, never paraded, always turned inwards to the source of the score itself. The war-depleted BBC Orchestra manage crisp attacks; their very distinctive woodwinds and the oboe (I assume it’s Terence McDonagh) make strong contributions and galvanise the movement. As was his wont Solomon plays the Clara Schumann cadenza – probably introduced to him by his teacher Mathilde Verne, herself a famous Clara Schumann pupil.

It’s a commonplace of course but it has to be said nevertheless; Solomon phrases the second movement with such simplicity and honesty that other pianists sound gauche or point scoring in his wake. The gradients of his tone and the proportionate ascending runs weighted with absolute naturalness are but two examples of the remarkable artistry of the pianist. Boult himself sensitively withdraws volume to match his soloist suffusing the movement with a grave delicacy. And how well Boult moulds the violins’ counter theme in the Rondo finale, how well both oboe and clarinet sing out and how vigorous and life enhancing is Solomon’s playing.

The Bliss Concerto was written for Solomon who premiered it at the New York World Fair in 1939, for which it had been commissioned, where it was played at Carnegie Hall with Boult at the helm of the New York Philharmonic. In his memoirs Bliss remembered Solomon nervously pacing up and down backstage before that June 1939 premiere wondering aloud whether he could go out and play at all. In 1943 with the then leading British Orchestra, the Liverpool Philharmonic, Solomon made a recording of the work, produced by Walter Legge, and again conducted by Boult. The hyper-Romantic virtuosity of its syntax holds no fears for Solomon. In the first movement’s virtuosic but stentorian opening – which encloses a remarkably static outburst – he is fully in control of the tricky rhythmic patina of the work. The orchestral instrumentalists make their presence felt as well – flute, clarinet (Reginald Kell?) and violin (presumably Henry Holst) all bring real distinction to the movement. But always with Solomon bravura is integrated, virtuosity subsumed to musicality; listen from 12’00 to the quicksilver changes of mood and from 13’45 where there is absolutely no forcing or playing through the tone even at this dramatic structural juncture towards the movement’s close. In the second movement Solomon reveals his chamber instincts for coalescing the faster and slower sections, for exchanges with orchestral soloists, for exploring the sometimes complex Romanticism at the heart of the Theme and Variations. Boult meanwhile encourages sensitive phrasing from the strings in response. The rather Russian finale is notable for some fascinating piano/woodwind exchanges and for Solomon’s traversing of the demanding piano part with extraordinary control. The final tremendous peroration, with its dramatic diminuendo and final outburst, is a real tour-de-force, one through which Solomon and Boult manoeuvre with real panache.

The transfers are excellent and the presentation comprehensive and thoughtful. Very strongly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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