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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.15 (1854-58) [42:14]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in B flat major, KV 333 (No.13) (1783) [18:19]
Solomon (piano)
RAI Turin Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
rec. 1956, Turin (Brahms) and August 1956, BBC Studios (Mozart)
GUILD GHCD 2353 [66:58]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the third example of Solomon’s way with Brahms’s D minor Concerto to come before the public. He made a commercial recording of it with Kubelik in 1952 (now on Testament SBT1041) and there’s a live broadcast with Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic on Tahra 276-277.

Solomon made a brief Italian tour in 1956, shortly before the appalling stroke that ended his performing life. Bryan Crimp’s biography of the pianist discloses that he also performed the D minor with Giulini, in Florence. But the performance under discussion took place in Turin with the young Lorin Maazel on the rostrum.

The Kubelik-directed recording has always attracted a certain amount of criticism, mainly directed at the conductor and in that respect at least Jochum (from December 1954) is an improvement. I’m not sure that Maazel is. The opening orchestral introduction finds him static and fussily over-romanticised and slow. It’s hardly a Reiner or Szell tempo, and whilst it doesn’t have to be, it should ensure a spine to the music-making and that it fails to do. It’s a young man’s indulgence, perhaps. Solomon is as ever a controlled and eloquent soloist, a truly powerful Brahmsian. His colouristic sense and his refined tonal qualities, allied to a sure control of rubato, are some of the more compelling parts of his arsenal. The sound quality is not especially kind to his tone. There’s a brief moment of pitch fluctuation in the first movement. Noble seriousness informs the slow movement though once again the piano spectrum is not ideally clear, and the general quality a touch dull. The relaxed legerdemain of the finale, acutely perceptive, generates sweeping power from Solomon, and here Maazel too relaxes into unselfconscious control. Overall I prefer Solomon in the companion Brahms concerto. There was just a touch of the doughty about him in No.1, splendid though he invariably is.

As a substantial bonus we have Mozart’s Sonata in B flat major, KV 333, the product of a BBC studio session in August 1956. The sound is a touch hissy but there is clarity too, and one can enjoy the panoply of Solomonesque qualities here. The playing is buoyant and finely textured, gallant in orientation but not winsome, expressive without becoming effusive or over-expansive, proportioned acutely, and aerated with appropriate colour, dynamics and a sense of timbre. The tape is not perfect, but generally convincing.

We have not been blessed with as much live Solomon as ideally we should, and everything is valuable. Guild’s commitment here is to be applauded.

Jonathan Woolf


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