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
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.
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
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
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
eclassical.com. 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.
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
Presto special CD or download
or in a 25-CD box. Though Solomon would not be my first choice here, I
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
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 –
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
survey. I’m pleased that these recordings are being made available again
to a potentially new audience.
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.