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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 cut short by several massive strokes in 1956. He only began to achieve genuine international fame in the early 1950s, and he began his two great Beethoven cycles at that time. 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. 3 and 4 (like that which combines Nos. 1 and 2), couples a concerto recorded before the stroke with one made afterward. Both performances are among the finest ever recorded. It is impossible to tell that a man who would never play in public again recorded No. 3.
There were (and are) pianists who perform the first and third movements more thunderously, but few who match (and none who surpass) Solomon's sense of drama. Intriguingly, this great classicist eschews Beethoven's own first movement cadenza for Clara Schumann's Romantic alternative, which Solomon had been using since his first performance of the concerto in 1911, at the age of 8. Solomon's performance of the slow movement, while utterly unsentimental, is profoundly moving. The pianist receives a splendid accompaniment from Menges. Little need be said about Solomon's collaboration with the young Andre Cluytens in the Concerto No. 4. In the sheer unobtrusive beauty with which it moves from the heart of the composer to that of the listener, it remains, after 40 years, the finest version of this great piece ever recorded. --Stephen Wigler