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Download only: available iTunes or Qobuz

Download only: available iTunes or Qobuz

Solomon Concertos: Volume 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.3 in c minor, Op.371 [35:47]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.162 [29:15]
Franz LISZT (1811-1896)
Fantaisie Hongroise, S1233 [15:40]
Solomon Cutner (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert Menges1,2; Walter Susskind3
rec. Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 19561, 19552, 19483.  ADD/mono/stereo
BEULAH 1PS16 [80:39]

Volume 2
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in a minor, Op.541 [29:43]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 in b-flat minor, Op.232 [32:17]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto in f-sharp minor, Op.203 [26:32]
Solomon Cutner (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Issay Dobrowen2,3; Herbert Menges 1
rec. Studio 1, Abbey Road, London, 19551, 19492,3. ADD/mono/stereo
BEULAH 2PS16 [88:33]

Both reviewed as lossless press previews. Download only. NO booklets.

More usually known just as Solomon, Solomon Cutner CBE (1902-1988) was one of the mainstays of the HMV catalogue, having made his first recording in 1929.  Following a stroke his career ended in 1956, so these are some of the last recordings that he set down, all with the Philharmonia and with conductors with whom he had a special affinity, especially Herbert Menges.  There’s an almost complete Solomon discography online here.

The Beethoven, which comes from that ideal partnership with Menges, remains one of the best interpretations of this work and confirms my feeling that this is my favourite concerto of the five.  It’s full of Mozartian life but it also presages the deeper works which were about to come forth, especially in this sensitive and ethereal account of the slow movement.  Though recorded in stereo, there’s little directional effect in this transfer but the recording is otherwise beautifully open and tonally very good indeed for its age.  Hitherto among recordings of this vintage I’ve preferred Annie Fischer and Ferenc Fricsay (DG, download only) in this concerto but I have a feeling that Solomon and Menges are about to change that.

I also listened to another recording of much the same vintage, from Claudio Arrau with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy (Columbia, 1953), now reissued on Naxos Classical Archives 9.80771 and available to download, without booklet, from   Despite the Naxos team’s best efforts, neither the clangy piano nor the crumbly orchestral sound comes anywhere near the quality of the Beulah transfer of Solomon and some of the tempi are too hectic.  Not one that I plan to return to, I fear, despite my normal enthusiasm for pianist, orchestra and conductor. 

Also with Menges, the Grieg and Schumann were released together on ASD272.  That’s a classic pairing, but so similar are these two works that it’s probably better to separate them, as Beulah have done.  Though criticised on their first appearance for a lack of engagement with the music, these came to be regarded as classic recordings, when reissued, on LP and cassette.  What the performances lack in depth, they make up for in the poise and quality of the playing and Menges’ sensitive accompaniment.  As in Beethoven, the slow movements are especially worth hearing.  The finale of the Grieg is rather matter-of-fact, though it perks up at the end.  The recording, though older than the Beethoven, has worn very well indeed, sounding markedly better than the Beulah transfer of Clifford Curzon and Ĝivin Fjeldstad’s Grieg, though that performance digs much deeper and is worth seeking out in a better transfer.  (Summer 2017/2 Survey).

With over 200 recordings of the Grieg and more than 300 of the Schumann, competition is so intense that one of my favourite recordings of the two works together, from Stephen Kovacevich and Colin Davis, is available only as a Presto special CD or download or in a 25-CD box. Though Solomon would not be my first choice here, I nevertheless enjoyed hearing these reissues.

The Liszt also sounds very well indeed, despite its 78 origins, with hardly a suspicion of surface noise, though there’s a hint of VU meters going into the red at climaxes.  The piano is a trifle clangourous but tonally secure and the performance was well worth reviving, rounding off Volume 1 in style and serving as a reminder that we don’t hear this virtuoso work often enough.

We return to recordings made in 1949 for the Tchaikovsky and Scriabin, when Solomon was at the height of his career.  If anything, this virtuoso, but not merely virtuoso, account of the former is the best of these performances and the recording is excellent for its age.  The sound could not be mistaken for an LP recording – there’s a small degree of blasting at climaxes and the balance between the soloist and orchestra is not always ideal – but very little tolerance is required.  When released on four 78s in 1950 it cost £1.15 – that’s at least £30 in today’s values, so to have it as less than half of an album costing £7.99 is real value.

For the Scriabin Solomon was on unexplored territory – he had never played it before and all concerned vetoed its release until it was issued on CD in 1971, along with the Liszt and the Bliss Piano Concerto, which he had commissioned1.  This is the least acceptable of the recordings on these two releases but it doesn’t require too much tolerance and though the performance is hardly worthy of being regarded as a benchmark, it’s certainly well worth hearing Solomon’s take on a concerto which, even now, is not over-burdened with recordings.  For a modern recording Yevgeny Sudbin with the Bergen Philharmonic and Andrew Litton would be a strong recommendation (BIS-2088, SACD, with Medtner – review DL News).

These Solomon recordings have all been reissued by Testament: Beethoven (Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4) on SBT1220, Schumann, Grieg and Liszt on SBT1231 and Scriabin and Tchaikovsky on SBT1232.  That’s three CDs at full price (around £11.75) and it doesn’t require a PhD in Maths to deduce that the two very well-filled volumes on Beulah, at £7.99 each, work out much less expensively and cover almost all the same ground.

I’ve highlighted the Qobuz link rather than iTunes because for the same price these albums can be obtained there in lossless sound rather than less-than-premium mp3, though you can come back for mp3 and other formats if you wish.

All in all, these two releases are my pick of the recent Beulah reissues, which is why I’ve reviewed them separately – the rest are covered in my Summer_2017_2 survey.  I’m pleased that these recordings are being made available again to a potentially new audience.

1 Solomon’s recording of the Bliss Piano Concerto has been reissued by Beulah, with music by Purcell (Suite, arr. Barbirolli) and Tippett (Midsummer Marriage Dances) on 8PD76 DL News 2015/10.

Brian Wilson



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