APR’s extensive devotion to Sergio Fiorentino bore
rich rewards before the pianist’s death in August 1998. A series of
discs displayed remarkable qualities in a musician whose public profile
was deliberately circumscribed – he was Professor of Piano at the Naples
Conservatoire from 1974-93, playing concerts only intermittently. Fiorentino
had made his American debut in 1953 and his career, despite devastating
injuries sustained in a 1954 plane crash, was to flourish in the 1960s,
precisely the time he made these Concert Artist LPs. As Justin Thyme’s
notes make clear the trajectory of the career meant that Fiorentino
was much less well known than his status deserved and this continuing
series has triumphantly succeeded in bringing his name to wide attention.
The contents of the CD are taken then from Concert
Artist LPs of 1962 and 1966. The earlier recording was made in Paris,
the later in Guildford over a two day period – the first day devoted
to the orchestral works, the second given over to the Hungarian folk
songs. Fiorentino was a Lisztian of convincing credentials as other
APR releases have themselves demonstrated. He had a big technique, transparency
of texture, wide dynamics which were never employed for superficial,
crowd-pleasing effect, never forced through the tone and was quite without
the egocentricity often to be found amongst less musically engaged colleagues.
Allied to these qualities is a faithfulness – not literalness – to the
score. His clarity was accompanied by poetry and it’s noticeable in
these recordings how often he infuses the music with a delicacy all
the more significant because it is born from a real virtuoso technique.
Listen to his speed for example in a warhorse like the Mephisto Waltz
where it is accompanied by a control and an aristocracy of phrasing.
Any danger of sectionality in the piece is swept away by his bravura
control of structure and by a sure architectural vision. The seldom
programmed Hungarian folk songs reveal eight minutes of deftness and
sensitivity – of persuasive phrasing and tonal variety. Yet he can be
tremendously exciting – in Ab irato for example there is some excoriating
work, especially in the right hand, but the always-present Fiorentino
admixture of poetic aloofness which adds a richly nuanced sensibility
to his Liszt playing.
Spozalizio is limpid, slow, a daydreamer’s interpretation
which rises to a passionate apex with its poetic instincts intact. The
Concerto suffers from somewhat constricted sound – the transfers have
come, in the main, from the LPs themselves as the original tapes have
been lost or damaged. The orchestral contribution is subsumed somewhat
into the background with an over bright piano in the balance. But as
far as the playing is concerned there is a tremendous vein of finesse
to Fiorentino’s pianism in the opening movement, a feeling of rightness
and inevitability to his phrasing and dynamics in the slow movement
– where his romantic instincts are tempered by longer term structural
goals. Even in the finale he evinces no concern at all for surface effect
or for any kind of artificial projection of the solo line. There is
virtuosity here in abundance but you never feel it as a means to an
end. His wit glitters in the Polonaise brillante and he and Handley
bring imagination and verve to the Chopin confection.
Fiorentino was an unflappable and consummate musician
and APR continue to show us how and why.