This exceptionally well-recorded Romeo set is my first exposure to the accomplished playing of Tel Aviv-born pianist Itzhak Solsky. It leads off with a very poetic account of Bach’s First Partita. Solsky invests the opening prelude and each of the six dances with an alluring mixture of color and shading. Its overall shape is quite similar to the EMI recording by Solsky’s former teacher, the Italian virtuoso Maria Tipo (both pianists display a slight tendency to over-pedal). This is a satisfying, quite romantic conception of Bach that avoids the idiosyncratic excesses of Carlos Martins (Labor). The Prelude and Fugue in D Minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier is played in a relaxedRead more and sensitive manner that recalls Samuel Feinberg’s superb complete set (Russian Disc). Solsky’s well-executed account of Haydn’s most beguiling sonata strikes me as a little too smooth and generalized: it lacks the angular wit and stylish clarity of the 1950s recording by Nadia Reisenberg (in an indispensable two-disc set from Ivory Classics). Chopin’s “Winter Wind” Etude is beautifully rendered, though it does not match the variety of nuance achieved by Robert Goldsand, whose wonderful recordings of the complete Chopin etudes (once on Concert Hall LPs) are long overdue for CD resurrection. The Piano Sonata No. 3 is very neatly played, but missing are the subtle rubatos and seamless transitions of the great Polish Chopin specialist Stefan Askenase (whose seven-disc DG set was high on my 2005 Want List). Askenase’s account of the Largo movement has a sad, otherworldly quality that remains unique (only Lipatti’s 1947 EMI version comes even close). In the finale, Solsky is more overtly virtuosic than Askenase (so is everybody else), but the Polish pianist presents an unusual, “galloping” quality that I find quite idiomatic and utterly irresistible. I should add that Solsky’s reading is nevertheless quite outstanding in its more straightforward way. As for the Barcarolle, Solsky sounds too cautious and overly concerned with details. Rubinstein and Cherkassky are among my preferred alternatives here.
The two Beethoven sonatas are a mixed bag. In the early Sonata No. 5, Solsky delivers one of the finest accounts I’ve heard. It lacks only the greater forward momentum and sharper accenting that make Yves Nat’s recording so special (in the latter’s complete Beethoven cycle for French EMI). Unfortunately, Beethoven’s last sonata gets an efficiently executed but superficial interpretation, with none of Schnabel’s profound spirituality (Schnabel’s 1930s recording has appeared in a 14-disc Danté CD set which, to my ears, sounds more musical and involving than rival transfers from Pearl, EMI, and Naxos). But Solsky comes back with a truly excellent version of Fauré’s inventive Theme and Variations: I think it’s probably the best of those currently available. However, hearing it reminds me that the even more exquisite Evelyn Crochet (in her 1960s six-LP traversal of Fauré’s complete piano music for Vox) should be on CD, too. Solsky’s program concludes with a very personal, well-turned reading of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. It’s a fascinating contrast to my other favorites, which include Gieseking, Cortot, and Richter.
I hope I haven’t been too hard on Solsky by comparing him to so many keyboard greats from the past. Save for the disappointing account of Beethoven’s final sonata, Solsky is revealed here as a genuine artist with a formidable technique. I look forward to hearing more from him in the future. Recommended.