SOLOMON plays Beethoven

This album is included in the following sets:

SOLOMON plays Beethoven "Emperor" Concerto, "Waldstein" & "Les Adieux" Sonatas (1952/55) - PASC353

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BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor"
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 21, "Waldstein"
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 26, "Les Adieux"

Recorded in 1955 and 1952
Total duration: 77:11

Solomon, piano
The Philharmonic Orchestra
conductor Herbert Menges

This set contains the following albums:

Solomon and the Philharmonia "are at one" in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto

Plus "Solomon's magnificent Waldstein — truly one of the great recordings of the century" - The Gramophone, 1967

Solomon was without doubt one of the foremost Beethoven specialists of his era, as this superb performance of the Emperor amply demonstrates - it was a request for this particular recording which prompted this short series of releases. Alas at this time EMI's adoption of stereo was somewhat patchy - a year later Solomon was still making some of his final sonata recordings in mono. I have chosen two of his 1952 sonata recordings from a similar period in Beethoven's output to join the Emperor here - both again brilliant played and recorded, and all three sounding simply wonderful in these new transfers after 32-bit XR processing. In the case of both sonatas and concerto I was also able to eliminate a hint of wow and flutter present in the originals, firming up the piano tone considerably as well as correcting very slightly wayward pitches (both up and down) to concert standard A=440Hz.

Andrew Rose

  • BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor", in E flat major, Op. 73
    Transfer from EMI HLS 7070
    Recorded 13 April 1955 at Abbey Road Studio 1, London
    First issued as HMV ALP.1300
    The Philharmonia Orchestra 
    Herbert Menges conductor

  • BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 21, "Waldstein", in C major, Op. 53
    Transfer from EMI HLM 7099
    Recorded 15 June 1952 at Abbey Road Studio 3, London
    First issued as HMV ALP.1160

  • BEETHOVEN Piano Sonata No. 26, "Les Adieux", in E flat major, Op. 81a
    Transfer from EMI HLM 7101
    Recorded 20 November 1952 at Abbey Road Studio 3, London
    First issued as HMV BLP.1051

Solomon, piano

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, August 2012

Cover artwork based on a photograph of Solomon

Total duration: 77:11

Review (Piano Concerto No. 5)

The Emperor is indeed fortunate among concertos, for each new version seems to manage to improve fairly consistently on the last. The latest is no exception: on general grounds I would place this new H.M.V. with Solomon at the top of the list, where previously I had preferred the D.G.G. with Kempff.

Not altogether expectedly, the new performance seems to concentrate on brilliance. To some small extent an occasional breadth of phrase or an occasional relaxation of tension are sacrificed to the primary end but it cannot be said that the result is not arguably suitable to the nature of the concerto. The Philharmonia, under Menges, and Solomon are at one in this: the orchestra lacks nothing whatever in brilliance, but its wind soloists do not always sound to be fully at their ease. That is not to say that anywhere there is a bar of wind-playing that would not pass muster in any orchestra in the world; but it is to say that occasionally the Philharmonia do sound less distinctive than usual.

The concerted brilliance is naturally in principal evidence in the outer movements; and it combines with a very sure rhythmic grip on Solomon's part to present the finale in a most effective light. The coda is particularly striking; Solomon delays beginning his ritardando to something like the point at which Beethoven marked it, and the notes of the timpani part are clearly audible as such. The result is a highly successful negotiation of one of the traditional danger spots.

The clear timpani at this point are symptomatic of the first-class recording. It is exceptionally clean, and brilliant to a degree matching that of the performance; and this without any suspicion of shallowness in the piano tone, which is full and rounded. The balance between piano and orchestra is nearly everywhere ideal, as is the internal balance of the orchestra. The sense of one passage in the slow movement would be clarified if the flute were slightly more prominent; but happy the recording in which such a comment is worth making!

Happy this recording in any case; and I have no hesitation in strongly recommending it.

M.M., The Gramophone, January 1956

Review (Sonata No. 21)

I am delighted to see reissued at this bargain price Solomon's magnificent recording of the Beethoven Waldstein Sonata— truly one of the great recordings of the century. It was made in 1952 when he was at the height of his powers, and the Carnaval recording, which has not been issued before, dates from the same year. With Solomon one always took a Virtuoso technique for granted. It comes as a surprise even so to be reminded in a brilliant piece like Carnaval, and also in one of Beethoven's most brilliant 'concert' sonatas, just how brilliantly he could play. The Carnoval performance is astonishing: a riot of extrovert gaiety, colourful to the point of garishness, at times hectic to the point of sweeping the carnival guests off their feet. Speaking from memory I would say that of all the other recordings of the work I've heard Solomon's comes closest to Rachmaninov's in terms of physical excitement. A commanding interpretation, if not perhaps one which does full justice to the 'light fantastic' and inward qualities of the music—those qualities which, above all others, Sviatoslav Richter serves so well in his Schumann playing. I shall return more often, I think, to the Beethoven side of the record, which has an authority only Schnabel at his best could equal.

S.P., The Gramophone, April 1967- excerpt

Review (Sonata No. 26)

If Solomon's supple control is admirable in the " Moonlight ", in " Les Adieux" it enables him to give a performance such as I have not heard equalled. Foi this "programmatic" sonata (the Farewtll, the Absence, the Meeting Again) is fiendishly difficult to hold together. In the Backhaus and Novaes performances the opening Adagio disintegrates ; with Solomon the basic pulse is beautifully sustained. In the Andante espressivo, the Absence, the problems of varying motion are most adroitly solved; and the Finale has an impetuosity, a joyful freshness, such as may surprise some of Solomon's listeners. The recording, like the performance, has no faults at all, but is entirely admirable. (The Gulda version listed above is too poorly recorded to recommend.)

A point of detail: four bars from the end of the first movement Beethoven has marked a crescendo which baffles editors and which interpreters generally prefer to render as diminuendo. Solomon surprises us at first hearing by realising the sense of the marking; by the third hearing we are completely convinced.

On the strength of this disc it certainly seems as if Solomon's complete recording will become the "standard" one. H.M.V have shown no signs of giving Schnabel's discs a new, LP, lease of life; and Decca's Backhaus issues, as we have all been saying in these pages, are immensely variable. Perhaps it is worth remarking, what one tends to take for granted in Solomon's readings, that the performances are instinct with loving care. Backhaus sometimes gives the impression that he has simply sat down and played off the sonata. There is nothing like this about Solomon: the result is not a lack of freshness (one listens as if hearing the music for the first time), but an inimitable rightness.

A.P., The Gramophone, December 1954- excerpt

Classical CD Review review

From the opening bars and its skyrocket arpeggios, he designs the concerto to overwhelm the audience.

Vive l'empereur! Heil Waldstein! Pristine crosses the finish with a roar in its final installment of Solomon's Beethoven piano concerto cycle. I have worried in previous reviews that Solomon might not have the sufficient vulgarity to play the Emperor. Of the cycle, probably my least favorite (I'm perverse), it seems to move me only when a pianist fully commits to its bombast. Solomon had struck me with his elegance and lyricism, two qualities you can have too much of in certain works -- like this one, Beethoven's essay in piano virtuosity. From the opening bars and its skyrocket arpeggios, he designs the concerto to overwhelm the audience.

Solomon's hands give the concerto both interpretive sophistication and plenty of mojo. Much of his ingenuity comes down to a perceptive judgment of what to leave to the orchestra. For example, in the intro's "rockets' red glare," the orchestra launches the fireworks with a boom, while Solomon lyrically comments, even managing a perfect diminuendo. Indeed, during most of the first movement, the orchestra gives the "public face" of heroism and Solomon the meditative one. Thus, when the pianist takes the lead, the ramp-up makes all that much bigger a stir. Such contrast rarely succeeds in general, since it can sound like orchestra and soloist haven't found themselves on the same interpretive page. Here, however, the collaboration between Solomon and Menges is so tight that the entire movement seems conceived as an entirety, rather than as a bunch of "magic moments," although you get plenty of those, particularly at the piano "scintillation" of the B theme.

Menges's opening to the second movement convinces me of his greatness as a Beethoven conductor as he perfectly captures the elusive simplicity of the Beethoven "spiritual" chorale. Solomon glides in after him, smooth as a swan on a lake, with that kind of stillness. The singing could easily bog down, but both performers keep up a gentle push. The transition to the third movement yields the only disappointment in the entire concerto -- too raggedy, the string plinks all over the place. They probably went for an improvisatory effect, but the coordination broke down. However, Solomon rebounds with his entrance, full-blooded and, considering his previous restraint, the equivalent of a roar. Unlike many interpretations, the entire movement becomes simultaneously powerful and buoyant, which trades in grandiosity for genuine grandeur.

For me, too many Emperors come cut from the same cloth, and I have little to no reason to prefer one to another. A truly original, non-bizarre interpretation you rarely run into. Solomon and Menges strike a unique balance between Romantic ardor and classical mesure. In fact, it has begun to push me toward a more complex view of both the concerto and Beethoven in general. I think of Beethoven as a composer of "edges" --abrupt transitions, rough, sharp contrasts, and so on, at odds with a suave approach. Yet Solomon and Menges bring it off and, doing so, take off the curse of crude manipulation from the score.

The first Beethoven piano sonata I ever heard neither the Pathétique or the Moonlight, the Waldstein knocked me on my tush and hasn't yet let me up. Schnabel played, and his interpretation has remained my touchstone, not only because I think it terrific but because I know it longest and best. Briefly, Schnabel drives the first movement and creates a quasi-improvisatory second which leads to a roller-coaster ride to the end of the third. The Waldstein, one of the harder sonatas, leads Schnabel into his share of splats. However, he plays as if in the grip of the thing, possibly because he would run into outright disaster if he let go. Nevertheless, this grip translates into a kind of obsession, which works for this sonata.

Technique is never Solomon's problem. The speed and clarity of his runs amaze, and with a powerful, golden tone, besides. Furthermore, he takes the fiendish first movement as fast as I believe I've ever heard it and nails the tough parts (the octave fanfare idea, for example). He propels the quick sections, beautifully relaxes in the lyrical ones. Unlike Schnabel, he seems in complete control, avoiding the former's desperate vibe for pure exhilaration. Conceptually, the second movement strikes me as the most difficult, for it seems to reside in a half-way place between song and recitative. Schnabel finds himself closer to recitative, Solomon to song. The transition to the finale is tricky, although many pianists do well enough, Solomon among them, but Schnabel really gets it. Once Solomon hits the finale, he's at his best, paradoxically restrained in tempo and headlong in rhythm. Lights and shades fill his phrases. This isn't all hit-and-run. We get gorgeous diminuendos and crescendos as well as varieties of touch and tone, from delicate to muscular, but it avoids the precious, as the coda's speed-up amply demonstrates.

I'm currently cooling off toward the Les Adieux sonata, although I recognize it as one of Beethoven's most radically-conceived sonatas, proceeding on drama and mood rather than on pure structure, the sonata equivalent of the Pastorale Symphony. In three movements -- "Farewell," "Absence," and "Reunion," it commemorates Beethoven's friend and patron's, Archduke Rudolph, escape from Vienna as Napoleon's armies approached the city and the archduke's eventual return. "Farewell" is tender, "Absence" rolls in misery, and "Reunion" gets giddy. For me, the work anticipates Wagner. My failure to respond may come down to the fact that I've listened to it too many times after the Waldstein. Scores go in and out all the time for me, so I'm fairly confident that one day I'll hook into it again.

Whatever my indifference to the score, it doesn't stem from Solomon, who delivers one of the most beautiful Les Adieux I've heard. Again, one notes the balance between Classical restraint and Romantic ardor. "Absence" is most affecting, while "Reunion" is practically pure rush.

All these recordings are mono, but they come from the tail of Solomon's career -- early to mid-Fifties -- so the bases are actually pretty good, especially that of the Emperor. Pristine aims not only to clean up noise and recording vagaries but to produce as good a sound as possible -- to get the most music out of the grooves. It has applied its XR "ambient stereo" recording process, which I find misnamed. It doesn't produce a left-right distribution, unlike the horrors of electronic stereo, but rather emphasizes the ambience of the recording, "rounds out" what you hear -- a "front-to-back" enhancement. A beautiful disc.

. (March 2014)