> Sergio Fiorentino - The Early Recordings Vol. 4 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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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]


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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.

Jonathan Woolf

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