The greatest pianist Britain has ever produced and one of the greatest Beethoven interpreters of the last century was Solomon (1902-1988)--he never used his patronymic, Cutner--whose career was tragically cut short by several massive strokes in 1956. He only began to achieve genuine international fame in the early 1950s--and both of his two great Beethoven cycles began in 1952. He never completed the sonata cycle (the 18 sonatas he managed to complete have been reissued by Testament), but fate was more forgiving about the concertos--two of which were actually completed after the first of Solomon's strokes, when the pianist was partially paralyzed. This release, which pairs Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (like the Testament CD that combines Nos. 3 and 4
), couples a concerto recorded before the stroke with one made afterward. Both are among the finest ever recorded. And this from a man who confided to his wife when the sessions for the First Concerto were completed that "I don't think I'll ever be able to play the piano again."
The performance observes the music's classical syntax and form, while never failing to supply the bite and tension straining against them and separating Beethoven from Mozart and Haydn. Menges, one of Solomon's favorite collaborators, matches his soloist without a misstep. The pianist's 1952 collaboration in the Concerto No. 2 with the young Andre Cluytens is no less beautiful. The first movement is reckless, but unfailingly accurate in its daring; the second warmly intimate; and the third filled with bravura that conjures a world of grace, wit, and elegance. --Stephen Wigler