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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise in A major Op. 40 No. 1 (1826)
Polonaise in A flat Op. 53 (1826)
Sonata No. 1 in C minor Op. 4 (1828)
Rondo in A flat Op. 16 (1828)
Introduction and Variations on a Theme from Hérold’s Ludovic (Variations Brillante) in B flat Op. 12 (1833)
Allegro de Concert in A major Op. 46 (1832-41)
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Recorded Hamburg, Paris, London and Guildford, 1955-65
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACD 9227-2 [76.05]


Retrieval of Fiorentino’s legacy continues apace, not least from Concert Artist who have given us a fine slice of his repertoire in recent years. Apart from the Polonaises Fiorentino prepared this programme for a series of BBC recitals that never transpired. The recording locations tell the story of the pianist’s busy concert career and the company’s attempts to record him on the wing – but despite the different locations the remastering is not at all troublesome and one can listen with pleasure and without acoustic leaps and lurches.

Fiorentino plays Chopin’s early C minor Sonata with aristocratic discretion. He cultivates a fine sense of direction in the opening Allegro maestoso, chords well balanced, animating left hand figures securely in place. He’s appositely playful in the second movement, seemingly uncovering the little waltz theme that’s embedded within it as if unnoticed, and whilst the Larghetto might be slight in length Fiorentino conjures persuasive, never over scaled, sonorities from it. He’s on fine form as well in the slightly distended Rondo finale; dynamics increase appropriately and he brings out the martial figures and the immediately following conciliatory gestures with real acumen. His rhythm is delightfully insouciant.

The rest of the programme covers some seldom-explored waters. The Rondo in C major was published as late as 1954 and is better known in its two piano incarnation. It’s quite a tough work to get around but Fiorentino never overplays his hand and never thunders in imitation of his amputated partner. Instead there’s fine style and a sure architectural cogency, as ever with Fiorentino. The E flat Rondo (Introduction and Rondo) is technically and expressively demanding and hasn’t been much taken up. Fiorentino in no way stints the taxing finger complexities but he succeeds in stressing the charm and affectionate lyricism those courses through it. His passagework is clean and crisp, balance between the two hands is splendid and he doesn’t put the Rondo under too much pedal – altogether a fine performance. The Variations from Hérold’s opera Ludovic (eventually completed by Halévy) were published in 1833 - just listen to Fiorentino’s pellucid charm from 4.10.

The Allegro de Concert is all that remains of a projected third piano concerto – either for two pianos or a single one. Chopin started it around 1832 but put it aside, returning to it periodically. As Concert Artist’s note writer justly observes this is a more rugged approach than he’d taken in the earlier works; I think there’s something Schumannesque about it as well – parts of it reminded me of Carnival. There are plenty of filigree trills, thick drive alternating with staccato chords and a splendid control of the tutti passages that are invariably part of the fabric of the score. The recital is happily book ended by two Polonaises – the opening A major is the weakest thing on the disc, too slow, literal and unvaried and over pedalled – but the A flat is really first class with crispness, buoyancy and a perfect tempo. Just the way in fact to end a recital of unexpected and little known pleasure.

Jonathan Woolf

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