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Fiorentino Edition - Volume 4: The Early Recordings: 1953-1966
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
rec. 1953-1966
PIANO CLASSICS PCLM0104 [10 CDs: ca 12 hrs]

The latest volume of the Fiorentino Edition from Piano Classics follows three eminently recommendable previous releases. Concentrating here on the period between 1953 and 1966 its focus is largely on Chopin, Schumann, Beethoven, Brahms and Bach.

The first disc presents Beethoven’s 32 Variations in C minor, complete with wow embedded in the 7” pressing. Chopin’s Sonata No.2 derives from a 12” test pressing and is in significantly better estate even though the playing is somewhat uneven, with erratic rubati and some messiness. The Funeral March is the most convincingly played movement. The sound in Mozart’s C major Concerto is only so-so and the orchestral playing of the London Mozart Ensemble is run-of-the-mill under the lethargic Mervyn Vicars. Fiorentino himself doesn’t sound inspired and can be metronomic. He does play his own cadenzas. The Appassionata sonata is ex-Fidelio LP, and the sound is misty and limited in response. The performance itself is well controlled and the best example of the Italian’s playing in this first disc.

All the Bach pieces on disc two were recorded on 10 August 1965. There’s measured gravity in the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor. Deftly expressive, Fiorentino is also rhythmically pliable in the Italian Concerto. Strikingly intense in the Busoni realisation of the Organ Prelude and Fugue in D minor, he is just as powerfully persuasive in the Chaconne. The interloper is Beethoven, whose Pathétique sonata was originally released under a pseudonym – Otto Bergman. Balanced and cogent it’s not especially personalised as a reading. More Beethoven follows in disc three with a hissy Moonlight, complete with preserved thumping stereo LP noises, and the Waldstein. His Schumann here comprises Ein Faschingsschwank aus Wien and an intermittently crazed Kinderszenen – with a protracted Der Dichter spricht and textually odd end (what was Fiorentino thinking of?).

Clip-clopping in the Prémbule, rushing in Pierrot, his Carnaval in disc four preserves a raft of instabilities in an always interesting, richly characterised reading. When he speeds up in the Symphonic Etudes it has the unfortunate effect of gabbling phraseology though at least he is less skittish here than in Kinderszenen. By far the most recommendable playing in this disc comes in the form of a powerfully chiselled reading of Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini. Similarly, despite some distortion in the preserved sound, the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel reveals a Brahmsian of power and insight. He exhibits technical legerdemain in Mendelssohn, galvanizing wit in the Borodin Scherzo and it’s pleasing to hear his Rachmaninoff, the Etudes-Tableaux, Op.33, dubbed from a rare Delta LP due to the loss of the master recordings in a fire. After which the Preludio from the Partita No.3, in the Rachmaninov arrangement, sounds superficial.

Discs six to ten are all-Chopin. The Paris-recorded Ballades date from 1962 and vary in effect. There’s requisite fire in the F major, but the F minor sounds somewhat plain. The Scherzos share disc-space with the Ballades. The last two Scherzi were considered sonically sub-standard so it seems were originally released on the Fidelio label under the name ‘Auguste du Maurier’. Both sets of Etudes occupy disc seven. The Op.10 set comes from the master tape – though even so it sounds slightly dull - whilst Op.25 has been transferred from an LP. Some erratic tempi are part and parcel of Fiorentino’s approach. In the final etude of Op.25 he substitutes, for the original, Anton Rubinstein’s use of alternating octaves. Despite the watery bass sound, the Op.25 set is compelling, not least No.7, which is movingly played. The rather dry and constricted sound of the Waltzes (Salle Wagram, Paris, 1962) doesn’t obscure the thoroughness of Fiorentino’s achievement – not least when some very obscure early waltzes are included. This was part of his company’s desire to record semi-encyclopaedic undertakings that would offer more to the potential purchaser than standard material. The Impromptus, with which this disc ends, are all sonically challenged, sounding dry once more.

The 1960 Hamburg session that produced the items on the penultimate disc sounds considerably better. It’s as if the move from Paris to the Musikhalle let in the air that had been sucked out of the Parisian studios. Much more of his colouristic palette can be admired in the Andante spianato et Grande Polonaise brillante. Sleeve note writer Ernst Lumpe strongly suggests that Fiorentino would have been playing the early Polonaises from the score but they are certainly not tentative-sounding affairs. The final item in this set of CDs is the Grand Fantasy on Polish Airs where he is joined by Vernon Handley and the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, a performance that has been reissued before.

The ups and downs of recording for a small label and the invariable quality control issue that dogged the enterprise are all faithfully reflected in this 10-disc set. Fiorentino, too, has moments of unevenness and even downright peculiarity. But Piano Classics’ enterprise has been rewarded by the restoration of a valuable body of work from a major artist, one whose later – if brief – flowering had its roots in the music he set down in these very active recording years.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Full track details
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue
Italian Concerto
Chaconne
Organ Prelude and Fugue in D minor
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 KV467
The London Mozart Ensemble/Mervyn Vicars
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
32 Variations in C minor Woo 80
Piano Sonata Op. 13 Pathétique
Piano Sonata Op. 27 No. 2 Mondschein
Piano Sonata Op. 53 Waldstein
Piano Sonata Op. 57 Appassionata
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Etude Op. 104 No. 1
Song without Words "Bees Wedding"
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
4 Ballades
4 Scherzi
Complete Études Opp. 10 and 25
Piano Sonata No. 2 Op. 35
Nouvelles Études
19 Waltzes
4 Impromptus
Polonaises
Early Polonaises
Fantasia on Polish Airs Op. 13*
Guildford Philharmonic/Vernon Handley*
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien Op. 26
Kinderszenen Op. 15
Carnaval Op. 9
Arabeske Op. 18
Symphonic Studies Op. 13
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Paganini Variations Op. 35
Handel Variations Op. 24
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
Scherzo
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Etudes-Tableaux Op. 33
Polka de W.R.
Transcriptions:
Bach E major Preludio,
Kreisler Liebesfreud


 

 




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