The English born soloist Solomon (the only name he ever used in his professional life) was fortunate in having found success in two separate careers as a pianist. From the age of eight until his early teens, he was one of the most celebrated child prodigies of his era, a national phenomenon in England right up until the time of the First World War. He developed a distaste for his instrument, however, and on the advice of conductor Sir Henry Wood, he gave up music for several years. Then, as an adult in the late 1920's, he reappeared as a prodigiously talented musician once again, beginning an international career that was to last him through the Second World War and into the 1950's. Solomon was born in London, the son of an impoverished tailor from the city's East End. At the age of seven, he astonished all of the adults around him by playing his own piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. He began studying with Mathilde Verne, a one time student of Clara Schumann. He made his formal concert debut in 1910, playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, and became an overnight sensation. The extensive touring and concertizing that followed, and additional study, proved to be too much, and he found himself loathing the piano by age 15. He disappeared from the musical world for the next six years, immersing himself in study, and re-emerged as an adult at age 21. His playing as an adult was acclaimed for its clarity, brilliance, and overall poetic feeling. He was particularly respected by his fellow musicians for his immaculate pianism, and the easy, unobtrusive virtuosity of his work. The qualities most often cited were matchless austerity and an absence of all pianistic vanity. His ego was virtually non-existent in concert, and his performances were, virtually without exception, a stunningly clear expression of the composer's intentions. He was well known for the Beethoven sonatas and piano concertos--though he never did record them all--but also for his Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, and Debussy, but was also comfortable with contemporary, early twentieth century works such as Sir Arthur Bliss's Piano Concerto, which he premiered at the 1939 World's Fair in New York and later recorded for EMI. Solomon's career on the concert stage and in the recording studio continued at a healthy pace into the 1950's, although a plan to have him record the Beethoven concertos with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Wilhelm Furtwangler proved unsuccessful, owing to the pianist's objections to working with Furtwangler due to the latter's record of musical activity in Germany during the Nazi regime. Thus, he worked with other, lesser conductors on those recordings. In 1955, Solomon became part of a very promising piano trio with violinist Zino Francescatti and cellist Pierre Fournier, but it was not to last. In 1956, while on vacation in France, he suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side and ended his career. His recordings, which date from the 1930's, were done for EMI and are all of interest--they have begun to appear on compact disc, either directly through EMI or under license to the Testament label. Despite the onset of his stroke in 1956, Solomon recorded a handful of works in stereo, but whether in stereo or mono, his recordings are all worth hearing, the clarity of his playing overcoming any seeming technical shortcomings in the recordings themselves. His performance of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," in particular, is notable for its poetic lyricism and natural, unforced passion. ~ Bruce Eder
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Classical - Released January 1, 1957 | BnF Collection
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