It is amazing to think, with pianism of this calibre, that it was only at
the end of Sergio Fiorentino's life that international recognition came.
Maybe this was due to the type of person he was. His friends described him
in glowing terms. He was devoid of an ego and radiated an inner spirituality
and calmness. He was totally non-materialistic, refusing to accept fees for
lessons, and accepting whatever concert fee was given him. Yet as a teacher
he could be a stern taskmaster.
He was born in Naples in 1927, and at the age of eleven went to study at
the Conservatory San Pietro a Majella with a stipend from the Italian
Ministry of Education, in recognition of his talent. Later he attended
master-classes with Carlo Zecchi in Salzburg. With several competition
successes under his belt he eventually embarked on a concert career. He
maintained that his role models were Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking and
Edwin Fischer. He discovered he had a particular affinity for the music and pianism
of Sergei Rachmaninov. He liked the way the Russian's music was 'laid out
fantastically for the piano'. A year after he made his Carnegie Hall debut
in 1954, he was severely injured in a plane accident and, as a result, had
to curtail his performing career. For four years he was laid low in a limbo
and took up teaching. On his return to the concert platform he learned, to
his dismay, that he had been largely forgotten.
At the end of the fifties, he began a second career in England. In the
intervening years his playing had matured, and he drew admiration from such
luminaries as Michelangeli and Horowitz. Although his own country, Italy,
was indifferent towards him, he started to make some recordings in England,
produced by William Barrington-Coupe of Joyce Hatto fame, under pseudonyms
such as Paul Procopolis. I remember my very first piano recording in the
'sixties was an LP of Mr. Procopolis playing the 'Emperor' Concerto with the
Leipzig Pro Arte Symphony Orchestra and Johann Walde. I presume 'Johann
Walde' was another of Barrington-Coupe's creations. In 1974 Fiorentino
withdrew from the concert stage in order to devote his time to teaching. In
the early 1990s he made a surprisingly late come back, but his Indian summer
was to be brief. It was sadly cut short by his sudden death on 22 August
1998, aged seventy.
Fiorentino, unusually, recorded both sets of Preludes plus the Op. 3 no. 2
in C sharp minor in one session on 22 September 1963. It appears no time was
allocated for retakes, and a few minor blemishes pepper these readings.
These in no way detract from what are compelling performances. He doesn't
perfume or over-romanticize Rachmaninov as some, neither is his playing
mannered in any way. Despite each Prelude's brevity, in his hands they stand
alone, individually characterized. By the end, I felt as though I'd been
taken on a journey. In Op.23, No.4 I love the poetry he brings to the piece
and the way he voices the chords. No. 6 is rhythmically incisive and
buoyant. Many will be taken by the brilliance and passion of the opening
Prelude of Op. 32, and the untrammelled virtuosity of No. 4. In contrast No.
5 in G major is characterized by a luminous transparency and No. 10 by
bleakness and desolation. In the last Prelude of the set, in D flat major,
despite the reined-in gestures a nobility pervades. On the downside,
however, sound quality is an issue with these early 'sixties recordings.
Allowances have to be made. In the Prelude in B flat major Op. 23, No. 2
there is distortion, loss of clarity and detail as a result of the powerful
dynamic range that Fiorentino achieves. The same dated sound applies to the
The two Sonatas, recorded in Berlin in the mid-nineties are not afflicted
with the same sonic limitations. Indeed the sound of the piano is ideal,
allowing the pianist's myriad colours to emerge. At thirty-seven minutes the
First Sonata can appear sprawling and meandering in lesser hands. Fiorentino
holds this vast structure together with cogency. The Second Sonata is much
better known and is more structurally concise. Fiorentino brings to the
score passion, drama, excitement, virtuosity and lyricism. He achieves the
necessary contrasts between grandeur and intimacy. His sonatas can stand
side by side with the best recordings of these works by the likes of
Lugansky, Ashkenazy and Horowitz (2nd Sonata).
This is Piano Classics' third volume in their Sergio Fiorentino edition,
and very welcome indeed. The excellent booklet notes, in English only, set
the works in context and provide an informative biography of the pianist.
Admirers of great pianism will want this.