GHCD 2353 – Solomon plays Brahms & Mozart – 1956

SOLOMON – piano, Rai Turin Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel

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By Christopher Breunig

Bryan Crimp’s saddening biography Solo (Appian Publications, Hexham, 199-1) notes that Solomon gave three recitals and three concerto performances in Italy during one week in Spring 1956: the year of the onset of his crippling illnesses. Besides the Brahms with Maazel (then 26, his DG conducting debut just a year away) there was a repeat with Giulini in Florence; in June there were fractious rehearsals for a further concert performance with the La Scala orchestra under Cantelli. Solomon struggled an for a while: the Mozart here was taped for the BBC in August 1956 when an additionally programmed Beethoven Sonata had to be abandoned. As Robert Matthew-Walker notes in the booklet, the 1952 studio recording of the concerto with Kubelik (HMV   ALP 1172) had not recaptured the excitement of their live Chicago performance from the previous year. It’s not surprising that RM-W draws attention to Maazel’s very fine conducting – it’s probably just a feature of microphone balance that his timpanist appears to slog through the bars before the diminuendo preceding the soloist’s entry. More than distracting here is the pitch waver in the piano’s treble register, which comes and goes and is at worst four minutes into (ii), when it sounds like an out-of-tune pub instrument.

Solomon is more than able to meet Brahms’s Herculean demands, and yet his very command seems to work against the performance – I found the piano part dispassionate and it was always something happening within the orchestra which refocused my attention. Tahra has a December 1954 live performance with Berlin Philharmonic under Jochum, now part of a three-disc set ( TAH556/558), but I have not heard that. Solomon’s Mozart playing epitomises the Classical style. Of the repeats, only the first half in (i) is observed, where the tempo initially struck me as too fast (one gets used to it). The playing is elegant and alive to the drama in the writing – the finale is particularly joyous. The sound is acceptable; only at one point does it go jarringly off-pitch and that’s – curiously! – where Mozart introduces a dissonance, in the first bar of the Andante’s development section.

MusicWeb International Friday November 20th 2009

Guild’s commitment here is to be applauded

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