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Hyperion Records

APR5503 - Solomon – The first HMV recordings
APR5503

Recording details: Various dates
HMV, United Kingdom
Release date: July 1994
Total duration: 77 minutes 23 seconds

Solomon – The first HMV recordings
No 9 in F minor: Allegro molto agitato  [2'07]  recorded 16 September 1942
No 2 in F minor: Presto  [1'15]  recorded 16 September 1942
No 3 in F major: Allegro  [1'33]  recorded 16 September 1942
Berceuse in D flat major Op 57  [5'00]  Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)  recorded 4 September 1942
Aria  [0'57]  recorded August 1942
Variations 1 to 3  [2'03]  recorded August 1942
Variations 4 to 6  [2'39]  recorded August 1942
Variations 7 to 9  [2'49]  recorded August 1942
Variations 10 to 12  [2'05]  recorded August 1942
Variations 13 to 15  [2'58]  recorded August 1942
Variations 16 to 18  [1'38]  recorded August 1942
Variations 19 to 21  [2'39]  recorded August 1942
Variations 22 to 24  [2'30]  recorded August 1942
Fugue  [4'39]  recorded August 1942
Allegro moderato  [9'25]  recorded 11 September 1943
with Henry Holst (violin), Anthony Pini (cello)
Scherzo: Allegro  [6'13]  recorded 11 September 1943
with Henry Holst (violin), Anthony Pini (cello)
Allegretto moderato  [6'51]  recorded 11 September 1943
with Henry Holst (violin), Anthony Pini (cello)

This is a recording from Appian Publications & Recordings Ltd (to quote the full title)—the label invariably more familiarly known simply as "APR".

Since its foundation in 1986, APR has won an enviable reputation as a quality label devoted predominantly—though not exclusively—to historic piano recordings. In particular APR has won countless laurels for the high standard of its 78rpm restoration work—"Transfers of genius" to quote one critic—as well as the detail and content of its booklets.


Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In common with so many musicians born at, or just around, the turn of the century and whose professional lives were approaching full maturity, Solomon’s career was brought to an abrupt halt in September 1939. The Second World War ensured that a musician’s lot was now governed by forces beyond the control of agents and impresarios. Some managed to mark time while others slipped from view, never to return to the public arena. There was, of course, a third option; namely to redouble one’s efforts, not for financial gain but for the general benefit and well-being of a country that was in danger of being overwhelmed. This was Solomon’s chosen path and, almost overnight, his life assumed an entirely different direction and dimension. The instinct to survive was wedded to an unquenchable pleasure in music-making and the result was an unprecedentedly hectic schedule, a feat unequalled by any British- born pianist. Not for him a selective rich diet of high profile war efforts or, heaven forbid, the flight to a cottage in the country in order ‘to expand his repertoire’, as did one of his peers. No, Solomon’s life was now dedicated to what he knew he could do best, the sustenance of the overall lot of h is fellow countrymen via his playing.

There was also war work to be done though the government’s decision to keep the upper echelon of musicians, actors and entertainers at home, in order to fortify the morale of the civilian population, meant that Solomon’s duties were to be undertaken at home—as an Air Raid Warden in his own district of Kensington, London. Time at first weighed heavy. This was the ‘phoney war’: there were no bombing raids, there were no invading troops. All cinemas, theatres and concert halls, however, had been closed as a safety precaution. Once the authorities realised the extent of their over-reaction and allowed doors to be reopened, Solomon began to concertise across the length and breadth of the country. Then, as the ‘phoney war’ inexorably gave way to the real thing, with saturation bombing raids an everyday and every night occurrence, he combined his professional and amateur jobs as best he could. Nights away from the concert platform found Air Raid Patrol Warden Solomon Cutner among the ‘front line men’ at home, invigilating his alloted area. He witnessed a German plane bringing down an entire terrace of houses in a street only yards from where he was patrolling; he regularly saw the horror of mass death and destruction; he viewed the crowds fleeing the city every night in their desperate search for some respite from the carnage.

Solomon was among the first volunteers to visit the serving forces in Europe. These ventures were made under the banner of ENSA—the Entertainments National Service Association (fondly referred to by service personnel as ‘Every Night Something Awful’)—who were responsible for arranging dramatic, variety and musical programmes for troops and war workers abroad. ENSA’s ‘serious music’ was under the control of Walter Legge who was convinced that classical concerts for service personnel were as essential as lighter fare. It was Legge who engaged the artists while ENSA staff undertook the necessary organisation.

All this time Legge also remained in the employ of EMI where he retained his links with both HMV and Columbia. Aware that Solomon’s Columbia recordings from the early-and mid-30s were still selling and that the pianist was enjoying an ever-increasing popularity, Legge considered the time ripe for some new recordings. Legge and Solomon consequently met in the recording studio on 19 May 1941 when they commenced work on what had become one of Solomon’s greatest successes, the Brahms Handel Variations, though after the recording of three sides the project was abandoned—quite why is not known though it could conceivably have been due to an air raid. When resuming work in the studio in July 1942, Solomon began to record the variations afresh, this time for HMV. A new contract had been drawn up: six titles per annum—‘solos only’—were required, these to be made under the terms of an annual agreement. It is unclear why the switch was made from Columbia to HMV though it could have been the result of a morale boosting exercise aimed at building up a roster of the most successful British pianists on the domestic ‘plum label’ during troubled war-time conditions. At any rate, Solomon’s first HMV records appeared alongside those by such other ‘plum label’ artists as Myra Hess and Benno Moiseiwitsch!

Five sessions were required to complete a satisfactory recording of the Brahms Handel Variations. Given his incomparable technical mastery it is safe to assume that this unusually high number of sessions was the result of frequent external interruptions and/or the need for a greater number of ‘takes’ of each side due to the problems of processing masters with inferior materials. Despite these obstacles Solomon’s recording remains a classic: each variation is tellingly and individually characterised, this, paradoxically, seeming only to enhance the pianist’s monumental conception.

The majority of Solomon’s wartime recordings were devoted to works currently in his repertoire, titles which would enhance HMV’s domestic catalogue. The Chopin pieces, recorded immediately after the Brahms Handel Variations, are a case in point. They also serve as a reminder of Solomon’s reputation as a Chopin interpreter during the ’20s, ’30s and early ’40s when his name was unhesitatingly mentioned in the same breath as de Pachmann and Paderewski, Cortot and Arthur Rubinstein.

Despite the ‘solos only’ clause in his HMV contract Solomon and Legge were soon involved in major collaborative projects. First to be recorded was the Bliss Piano Concerto which Solomon had premiered in New York in June 1939 and which had rapidly become a symbol of British-American solidarity. There followed the recording of Beethoven’s Archduke Trio, a prestigious title which Legge was keen to have in the UK HMV catalogue from British (or ‘sympathetic’) artists. Despite regular chamber music appearances dating back to the earliest years of his prodigy career, the work was not in Solomon’s repertoire and so the project was to become the first of several ‘special consignments’ undertaken by Solomon as a favour for Legge. The sessions proved far from easy with ‘take’ after ‘take’ having to be made during three days of intensive work in July 1943, apparently due to Henry Holst being decidedly off-form. In the end Legge was of the opinion that none of the thirty-odd matrices could be used and the trio reassembled in the September for a further three days of recording. We should be grateful for Legge’s persistence; with Solomon as a characterful but never over-emphatic leader the interpretation has a touching simplicity, modest dignity and elegant poise.

Legge never lost an opportunity to remind Solomon that he must drop into the recording studio should ever a spare afternoon coincide with the urge to make a record. Such a laissez faire approach to recording, even at this time, might appear to be totally impractical, but where Legge was concerned nothing was impossible. His cajoling was rooted in the belief that Solomon was destined to be counted among a handful of pianists who would dominate the international scene once the war was over. As personalities and as men the two could hardly have been more different yet when it came to musical matters they were bonded by an exceptional empathy. The more they worked together the fonder they became of each other, each admiring the other’s professionalism and innate musicality. It is no coincidence that practically all Solomon’s subsequent 78rpm recordings and a large proportion of his LP recordings were all produced by Legge. (A further coincidence: the only recording of this period Solomon considered unfit for publication—a performance of Mozart’s Sonata in B flat, K.333—was not produced by Legge.) It was Legge, incidentally, who in a particularly inspired moment, came up with the nickname ‘Solo’—his letters to Solomon invariably began ‘O Solo mio’—and it was a sobriquet Solomon’s closest friends adopted with delight.

There is an unavoidable impression, supported by his recordings of the 1940s, that, in many respects, Solomon reached the zenith of his achievements during the difficult war years. The deadening hardships that assailed the population on all sides and the loss of loved ones seemed only to fuel his inspiration and, no doubt, heighten his audiences’s receptivity. They marvelled, as ever, at his infallible technique and his unquestionable musicianship. Many were of the opinion that his playing had acquired an added dimension, a vibrant frisson which would later be supplanted by a mellow reflectiveness. There are countless contemporary reports of audiences being ‘thrilled beyond measure’, of their ‘deafening applause’ and of them standing on their feet as one man ‘to bring back the great pianist for one encore and then another’.

Bryan Crimp © 1994

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