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Solomon. Concert recordings 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto no 3 in C minor Op 37 (? 1800)
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat Op 23 (1875 rev 1879 and 1889)
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Eduard van Beinum, 18 December 1952 (Beethoven)
Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra/Hans Schweiger, 29 or 30 January 1952 (Tchaikovsky)
APR 5651 [67.01]



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This is the first volume in a series devoted to live Solomon performances and will fill his many admirers with anticipation and enthusiasm. That the two concert performances here replicate two of his best-known interpretations need not come as a disappointment. Solomon recorded both the Beethoven C minor and the Tchaikovsky B flat twice; the former with Boult in 1944 and Menges in 1956, the Tchaikovsky with Harty in 1929, one of his first recordings, and again in 1949 with Issay Dobrowen. These live performances date from a period of intense travel, the Tchaikovsky, in Kansas, from the beginning of 1952 and the Beethoven, recorded in Amsterdam, from the end; book-ending assiduous and ceaseless performing.

The Beethoven is in good sound; it opens without particular opulence but there is depth in bass sonorities and a just balance between soloist and orchestra. There are some signs of a bronchial Dutch audience but these are part of the on-the-wing performance. There are some little differences between the now-three extant performances Solomon has left us. In all three recordings his approach to the finale was essentially stable; in the slow movement there is little difference in tempo between van Beinum and Boult though with Herbert Menges (himself a pianist) Solomon expands more. In the Allegro con brio his van Beinum and Menges timings are almost identical; Boult was somewhat fleeter and inclined to drive faster, inflecting the opening orchestral introduction, for example, with myriad felicities. In Amsterdam there is sovereign clarity in passagework in the opening movement. Dramatic and purposeful, there is splendid unanimity between soloist and conductor with Solomon’s patrician refinement as ever a thing of wonder. His control of dynamic contrast and colouristic acumen are imperishable features of a thoroughly convincing first movement. As was invariably the case he plays the Clara Schumann cadenza. The Largo unfolds with measureless generosity. The Concertgebouw woodwinds are on especially expressive form – the principal flute particularly so – and van Beinum shapes the movement with real understanding (there are a couple of scratches on the acetate in this movement but they are of very little account). The tonal weight Solomon employs and his shades of chordal colour and depth are as impressive as the way in which van Beinum lightens string tone, where earlier the basses and cellos had been strong and expressive. The finale goes with easy fluency, variegations of tone and perfectly animated runs coalescing with the quietly humorous spirit Solomon always engendered here. The close is brilliantly spirited and well deserves the animated applause that night in Amsterdam.

The Tchaikovsky is, as Bryan Crimp justly notes, a more outward-going and obviously virtuosic performance than the magisterial 1929 and 1949 commercial traversals. That said there is no trace of ostentation or vulgarity here. Instead there is dashing technique in the first movement with plenty of panache. The Kansas woodwinds certainly pipe up strongly in this movement and one can savour the adrenalin rush that Solomon could impart, from 7.00 onwards. Incendiary stuff. The Prestissimo section of the Andantino semplice is rippling and deliciously fleet, the return to the tempo primo negotiated well. It’s true that the Kansas City orchestra is not the finest and also that there is some congestion in the sound here and there but nothing enough to spoil pleasure in Solomon’s drive and conviction. When it comes to the finale he does drop one or two notes but this is heat of the moment playing even at his accustomed tempo and nothing derails him from a triumphant conclusion.

The documentation is excellent and Crimp’s notes succinct. We can look forward with confidence to the second volume of this series. Both Brahms Concertos exist in off-air performances and it would be good to hear Solomon’s speaking voice – he was recorded in interviews on tour. Admirers await the next instalment with keen interest.

Jonathan Woolf

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