The concert platform is a lonely place—and though some four score people were sharing it with the pianist last Sunday night—the rôle of soloist at a recital is still perforce a solitary one. It is hard to think of any great performer who does not (or did not) while away these hours of loneliness by holding conversation with himself or by some similar quirk of self-absorption. So it was with Solomon. Those vociferations of ecstasy, those explosions of melismatic fecundity, were (to us) inspirational signposts in an in any case exceptional evening. There, we could tell, was the pianist on a lonely peak of genius: We, meanwhile, were sitting in the Arts Theatre, wedged between two professional coughers, and faced by several dozen of glum faces, all slightly tilted like expectant cockatoos. Luckily your critic escaped without psittacosis.
The musical education of the British Public is climbing slowly but surely up to its nadir, so surely in fact that after Mr Norman Higgins had announced Solomon’s first piece to be the Waldstein Sonata (and not the work named in the programme), the pianist had only to play the first bar for the second and third bars to be drowned in a plethora of whispered affirmations that this was indeed the Waldstein.
This sonata was played brilliantly with smoothness, clarity and tone-control, Solomon being obviously on the alert to give a piece so often played just that touch of freshness. The tactful emphasis on an inner part, even if it was not leading anywhere. the lingering on a pause, the delicately graduated accelerando, and the refusal to hurry at the moment when mere muscular virtuosity so often gets the better of good taste: These things bespoke his care and mastery. And not only in the first item.
In the Beethoven, one was charmed by the delicacy and rightness of things, by the significance given to the Adagio, and by the sumptuously exquisite trills of the prestissimo. But in the Chopin (all four Ballades), one was enthralled by a sense of overall grace, a revelation of entirety, of wider purport. Solomon’s hands may have been hitting any old note in any old place (and these Ballades were performed by no means immaculately), but the drama, the inner voice, the poet in the music was revealed, even if the detail was dissipated.
Given the shabby old heap of iron bedsteads that he was playing on, most people would have made merely a woodpile. By magical alchemy, Solomon not only gives us the woodpile, but puts in it the proverbial nigger, that germ of otherworldly vitality, which each of us is inwardly seeking. This all goes to show that really great players do not need to practise. However they play, it is still music.
The last work of the programme was Schumann’s Carnaval—again, as with the Beethoven, wonderfully performed. Perhaps the vulgarity of “Promenade” was underplayed, and the “Valse Noble” was deprived of its hauteur. But otherwise all was excellent.
I think it is not generally perceived how deeply sensitive these little pieces are. Of course, they are not just pictures, as is so often said, of people and things, but pictures of Schumann’s own reaction to these things, and to various aspects of himself. Thus “Pierrot” and “Arlequin” seem to comment on the futility of versatility. One always catches oneself making the same old joke in the end. “Florestan” is Schumann’s own vacillations and exasperations concerning his tyrannical father-in-law. “Coquette” is not a coquette as such, but Schumann’s sneer at old Wieck’s misconstruction of the composer’s attachment to Clara. “Replique” merely shows how useless it is to try to remonstrate with such pig-headed prejudice. “Papillons” may well be more directly reminiscent. Perhaps Schumann is chuckling at the dresses worn at Carnival Time. (That is, the inconvenient clown in a man that lasts his whole life-time.) Imagine some of the revellers figged out as butterflies. At first all is well, save for a catastrophic rain of small pearl buttons in the second section. Then trouble! Everyone’s wings start getting entangled. Angry cries of buffetted beauties! “Chiarina,” with its divergence of the inner part, is not Clara, but Schumann himself—his passionate inquietude as to whether or not he is fit to marry her. “Estrella” is his own disturbing sense of being dogged by an inferior intellect. See how she is always tagging along, half a pace behind. A perfect little yes-woman. “Reconnaissance” is the surging of blood in the veins when one sees someone for the first time and knows immediately that one has known them all one’s life. “Pantalon and Colombine” is the cautious sparring when two as yet unacknowledged lovers meet. A secret understanding is reached in the last four bars, sealed perhaps by the lingering of a hand, the dwelling of an eye. “Aveu” is the gradual approximity of two mouths, which are planted firmly on one another at the double bar, withdrawn and then re-applied. This is clear from the part-writing.
However, suffice it to say, whether I am right or not, as mere abstract music Solomon made this work a remarkably satisfying close to his recital. Naturally there were encores. Chopin’s F sharp major Nocturne, Debussy’s “General Lavine—eccentric,” from the Preludes, and a Scarlatti sonata. The Debussy was so crisp and appetising, one might have wished for more of it in the main programme and less Chopin. But maybe then, the expensive seats would not have been sold.