Yonty Solomon at The Red Hedgehog

Partita in E minor, BWV830
Etudes symphoniques, Op.13
24 Preludes, Op.28

Yonty Solomon (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 21 January, 2007
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

This concert marked Yonty Solomon’s return to the concert circuit after recovering from an arm injury provoked, apparently, by a musical work requiring him to clout and thwack the piano’s frame.

Solomon opened with the Bach. Let me say first that this is a man capable of gazing at the greatness of Bach without flinching. What he sees is a composer of great steadiness and simplicity, someone not to be hurried – a person of considerable personal dignity, innately magisterial. Solomon’s Bach is a man with a sense of measured speed, sanity and balance (both psychological and aesthetic). So in Solomon’s playing there is time and space for everything. It may be a solemn toccata in minor-key grandeur, a brief, transcendent air or the plangent lament underlying an imposing sarabande. Equally worthwhile, though – and this is yet another mark of Bach’s greatness – are the sturdy, timeless strains of the humble dances: the rumbustious allemande, the sprightly courante, the slightly ponderous gavotte or the hectic gigue. They have their feet on the ground – the place where the majority of us live, work, love and meet our fellow human beings.

Schumann is wilder and more loosely impassioned. He spreads and contracts, slides and eases himself with all the apparent contradictoriness of mercury on the surface of an uneven table. Solomon’s playing-mode relaxed. Now he had the freedom to soar, for his passions to become heady, for him to lose his head in the music. Huge swirls of sounds, at liberty to accumulate incoherently, were matched by eloquent moments of emotional precision of sudden timeless poignancy.

Chopin’s 24 Preludes came from the same source. For the most part, these were robust affairs – vital, forward-pressing and challenging. There was no sense of Chopin languishing on a couch, limply clasping a blood-spotted handkerchief. The E minor Prelude was certainly robust, the B minor one a flourishing aria and the A major piece had a romping Viennese style. Their unpretending simplicity could derive from Bach. These Preludes also hold cloudy passions and soaring aspirations – at times, a note of desperation, too.

Another notable feature of Solomon’s recital was his pedalling. In the Bach, it was minimal and judicious – as it should be. No, the question/problem really comes with Schumann and Chopin. Absolutely minimal pedal takes the Romantic bloom off the music so that the playing cannot attain the elevating headiness of a Keats. Too much pedal, though, purveys a vigorous obscurity and obfuscation similar to Swinburne or Browning at his most abstruse. What I am after saying is that Mr Solomon knew what he was doing – listened carefully to what he was doing, I might say. He took risks, piling cloud upon cloud of sound. Into what realms of obscurity was he taking us? Then, briskly, at precisely the most effective juncture, he released his foot and the notes flew away into the ether, clearing the air for whatever sound-effect he wanted to display next. Some credit, apparently, is due to the excellent mechanism of The Red Hedgehog’s piano – but, note, it takes an astute pianist to recognise that.

All in all, this was a concert to remember. Solomon had been thinking of further Chopin as an encore. Instead, thank goodness, he chose the Aria on which Bach’s Goldberg Variations is based, thereby closing in sublime and majestic stillness.

  • The Red Hedgehog
  • The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050

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