> Grieg, Chopin Piano concertos Fiorentino [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A Minor Op 16 (1868)
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Piano Concerto No 2 in F Minor Op 21 (1830)
Sergio Fiorentino, piano
The London Concert Orchestra
Arthur Dennington
Recorded Hornsey Town Hall and Greenwich Borough Hall, London February and March 1955
CONCERT ARTIST CACD 9199-2 [62.34]

The legendary pianist Sergio Fiorentino died in 1998 having enjoyed a long-delayed resurgence in his international career. The overwhelming bulk of the extant recordings, many issued for the first time or unavailable for years, have been of the solo literature so it is especially valuable that Concert Artist/Fidelio Recordings are issuing a number of his concerto engagements – which include, in addition to this Grieg/Chopin disc, some of the Beethoven Concertos.

The survival of the Grieg is a matter of considerable value because between the time of this performance and 1993 it didn’t feature in his repertoire, when it returned for a series of Concerto engagements in Italy. If anything the existence of this Chopin F Minor is even more significant; he performed the Chopin E Minor often but the F Minor hardly at all – in fact this March 1955 performance was the only time in his entire career that he played it publicly. These live recordings are supplemented by recordings carried out during rehearsals. Concert Artist were quite assiduous in doing this – for their recording of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes patches were used from other performances and some patching has gone on, unobtrusively, here where necessary. The masters are therefore in pretty good shape, with applause kept to a relevant minimum and a degree of clarity helpful to appreciate Fiorentino’s performances.

The Grieg opens with a thunderous drum roll that really crashes open in the very resonant acoustic; Fiorentino enters assertively, closely balanced and miked. This means that the balance is rather askew with oboe especially but other instrumental material and strands rather distant. Nevertheless there are some pungent orchestral contributions from members of the London Concert Orchestra and Fiorentino has the aristocracy of command that one has come to expect of him. Maybe things could have gone better orchestrally in the first movement where tension is inclined sometimes to sag and there can be diffuseness in the strings with pallid and occasionally indistinct phrasing. In the slow movement Fiorentino is very careful over articulation, plenty of thoughtful filigree animates a movement, in his hands, more Intermezzo in spirit than Adagio-attacca. Some real intensity of phrasing floods the opening of the finale, with Fiorentino, as ever, quite without ostentation but always with the maximum of musical intelligence, bringing out unusual lines and voicings. His delicate treble flecks the line as well – quite delightful. Not everything comes off however– the end is rather portentous and protracted.

The Chopin F Minor opens in rather peremptory fashion, quick and rather shapeless, with both Fiorentino and orchestra taking time to settle down. This they gradually do and as they do so this becomes a reading that only grows in stature, beauty and refinement, particularly of course from the pianist. There is an elevated intensity of feeling in his musicianship that is compelling to hear and the slow movement is frequently ravishing. The clarity of his passagework – clarity but not coldness or mechanical efficiency – the control of dynamics from mezzo forte to piano, the articulation that embraces both passion and control are all Fiorentino hallmarks, splendidly audible here. He has the architectural measure of the finale – I’m tempted to think he had the architectural measure of everything he played – and animates the music with sparkling runs and moments of cherishable elegance.

Documentation is good and remedial work on the tapes has been a success, even given acoustical and other problems; Fiorentino admirers simply won’t hesitate to acquire these precious and rare examples of him in literature he so seldom performed. Others, more sceptical – Fiorentino divides opinion as much as, say, Pollini – should certainly listen, especially, to the Chopin.

Jonathan Woolf

Other recordings

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Douze Études d’exécution transcendente S139 Sergio Fiorentino, piano - Recorded Conway Hall, London 14 February 1955 and Civic Hall, Guildford 16 February 1966 CONCERT ARTIST CACD 9201-2 [63’04] [JW]

No doubting Fiorentino’s command of sonority, keyboard and text … see Full Review

Sergio Fiorentino - The Early Recordings. Volume Four. The Orchestral recordings. Liszt and Chopin - Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Mephisto Waltz No 1 S514, Funf ungarische Volkslieder S245, Ab irato S143, Spozalizio S161/1, Piano Concerto No 2 in A major S125, Weber Polonaise Brillante S367 - Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849) Fantasia on Polish Airs Sergio Fiorentino, piano - Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley (last three items) - Recorded September 1962 Salle Wagram, Paris items 1, 3 and 4, February 1966 Guildford Civic Hall remainder APR 5584 [78’17] [JW]

Wit, glitter, imagination and verve. Fiorentino was an unflappable and consummate musician. ... See Full Review

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