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Sergio Fiorentino Edition VIII
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Ballade No.1 in D flat major S.170
Ballade No.2 in B minor S.171
Funérailles S.173/7
La Leggierezza
Sonata in B minor
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Recorded Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin, October 1997
APR 5562 [76.42]


These were the last recorded documents bequeathed by Sergio Fiorentino. He spent time recording in Berlin and works by Schumann, Schubert and Debussy will appear in due course. These Liszt performances derive from sessions on 18th and 19th October 1997. He died the following year. Additionally this constitutes Volume VIII in APR’s invaluable and enriching series, one that has given renewed impetus and emphasis to those who hold Fiorentino in esteem.

Fiorentino had a big technique that remained intact until the end. He managed to cultivate transparency of texture when he wanted to, wide dynamics which were never superficial, never forced through the tone and was quite without egocentricity. His clarity was accompanied by poetry and, as he grew older, a powerful introspection. Though his repertoire was extensive he returned time and again to Liszt and we can chart the journey he took in the Sonata from his earlier years when he was taped by Concert Artist to this last recording. First though one meets his heroic encounter with the Ballades, No.1 in D flat major and No.2 in B minor. In the First Fiorentino fuses will-o’-the-wisp with a jazzy sounding march section animated all the while by beautiful right-hand tracery. The Second, indissolubly linked in my mind with Horowitz and with Kentner, has some subterranean bass roars as explicit as Coleridge’s caverns, ‘measureless to man’. There is much that is inspiringly dramatic here even if some may prefer mid-period Kentner’s sheer generosity and warmth.

Funérailles is, in Fiorentino’s hands, marmoreal and adamantine and under considerable pedal when it opens. Textures are also thickened. Much is gloriously poetic but equally, despite the nobility and the heroism and grandeur, this lacks the ‘charge’ of such as, say, Katchen’s 1957 recording. There the rhythmic tension is inescapable and galvanic; here less so. In La Leggierezza we can contrast two Last Testaments, Barere’s from 1951 and this Fiorentino. Barere’s capricious rhythm and rubati are part of an eruptive pianistic persona. Fiorentino’s is a more austere and august approach though one that tends to abjure rubati here in a way that, say, even Arrau in Berlin in 1928 didn’t. Waldesrauschen is much associated with Lamond and for those with a taste for interior and straighter Liszt playing, Harold Bauer (amongst many others of course). Fiorentino here conjures a sheer halo, a gloriously romanticised cocoon of sound. Lamond however prefers sobriety, direction and a sense of line; Bauer even more so than Lamond, and the perils of Fiorentino’s approach are ones of compromising the spine of the rhetoric.

Which brings us to the Sonata; the grand signing off for Fiorentino’s Liszt. What one feels about it will depend on how acutely one responds to Fiorentino’s very personal, late vision of the Sonata. The strange, hugely italicised, granitic opening, fearfully slow and malign, is personalised to a remarkable degree. He responds to the powerful challenges with astonishing fervour but also favours some thickening of the bass and, on occasion, a wash of pedal. He finds a kind of desperate beauty in the Grandioso section where his tonal resources are at their most fully developed and declamatory strength in the Andante sostenuto. He "times" things with acute perception; much is wonderful. And yet when one turns back to his earlier recording, made for Concert Artist we find a clearer and leaner performance. It is perhaps the difference between optimistic portent and retrospective reflection and the difference between the two is the distance travelled. And I have to say that it’s not simply for the bewildering opening alone I find myself drawn back more to the younger Fiorentino – though the older man’s recording is, notwithstanding his death soon after, still deeply moving. As indeed is much in these valedictory but powerfully human, thus flawed, recordings.

Jonathan Woolf


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