Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Sergio Fiorentino plays Chopin and Liszt
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58 (1844)
Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23 (1837)
Ballade No. 3 in A flat Op. 47 (1837)
Franz LISZT (1813-1886)

Sonata in B minor (1852-53)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Recorded Hornsey Town Hall (Chopin Sonata) March 1959, Conway Hall (Ballades), September 1954 and Liszt Sonata, June 1955


It was Concert Artist’s ambition – largely realised – to record Sergio Fiorentino’s Chopin in its entirety. As their notes make clear, Fiorentino recorded the B minor Sonata twice – as indeed he did the Liszt B minor. The early recordings on this new CA release date from 1954-59 and make their first ever appearance here. I have written a number of times about Fiorentino’s pianism and musicianship on this site. This still-controversial musician continues to generate heat whenever a disc is unearthed from the vaults. My admiration is undimmed though I have to register some disappointment when it comes to the Chopin Sonata. When I seem less than convinced by him this is not to imply some fatal turning away from his patrician elegance, his tonal poetry and his unostentatious control. Rather it is a difference, I suppose, of conception.

My problem with the Chopin is its inconsistency – or what I take to be its inconsistent tone. The first movement is deeply poetic, beautifully nuanced, with a liquid aristocracy of phrasing, a wonderful touch. His rubati, too, are excellently judged, a perfect Fiorentino-Chopin performance in fact. The Scherzo is full of crisp vivacity with a notably sensitive trio. I totally part company with those who find Fiorentino uninflected and cold. No, the problem for me lies in the last two movements, the Largo in particular. Its slowness is a relative matter – though it is quite slow – but what is more troubling is the lack of flow of the melodic line, its static quality. There are times when rhythmic lethargy is not far away. Despite his compelling, indeed outstandingly beautiful singing tone, one can’t escape the feeling that the extremes of tempo-rubato are being utilised and that the movement is being subjected to a degree of lassitude it can’t ideally bear. As for the finale, I’m still undecided. My first impression, subsequently relaxed, was that it all sounds rather mechanical. Then doubts resurfaced. At points the left hand overbalanced the right, the melody line seemed to disappear fractionally and there was a lack of differentiation throughout. In the end I again found it tinged with mechanism. Which is a shame because I admire Fiorentino greatly. Luckily the rest of the disc seems to me very much more successful.

The Liszt Sonata was recorded at the Conway Hall in June 1955. All Fiorentino’s best qualities are put at the service of a highly crafted and immaculately voiced performance. There is splendid fluency, total avoidance of brashness and forcing at the climaxes, clarity but never lack of emotive engagement. The Quasi adagio section is especially impressive. Fiorentino’s structural control here seems very much more acute than in the Chopin. The tone is at all times very – that word again – beautiful. There are obviously, as in the performances of all superior artists, moments of contention. There are times when there seems a slight lack of control in the faster sections particularly the Allegro energico. Against that there is a hair-trigger sensitivity in the Lento assai that is as compelling as it is impressively controlled. On balance the two Chopin Ballades are only intermittently impressive. His rubati in the G minor are certainly highly personalised and whilst there’s plenty of assurance in the playing there is also a sense of disengagement. The A flat is full of some filigree playing but I found parts of it just a little dogged.

So, a mixed reception for this Fiorentino release. His many admirers, of course, need not hesitate as this documents more rare material in his ever-expanding discography. Clearly there must have been a lot of restorative work on the decades old tape but the sound itself is unproblematic. There are no edits that I can hear and no deterioration either. As for the quality of the performances – for me, frustratingly uneven.

Jonathan Woolf


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