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Jonathan Woolf
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Sergio Fiorentino Live in Taiwan
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 arr. Ferrucio Busoni. Ed/rev. Sergio Fiorentino [13:26]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.31 in A flat major, Op.110 (1821-22) [18:36]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata No.2 in G sharp minor, Op.19 “Sonata-Fantasy” (1892/97) [10:10]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.36 (2nd version 1931) [16:59]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz No.7 in C sharp minor, Op.64/2 [2:49]
Waltz No.6 in D flat major, Op.64/1 “Minute Waltz” [1:29]
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Etude de Virtuosité, Op.72/6 [1:36]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Song without Words in C major, “Spinning Song” Op.67/4 [1:39]
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
rec. live, 29 May 1998, Novel Hall, Taipei, Taiwan

In May 1998 Sergio Fiorentino flew to Taiwan for a visit of a few days. He was a jury member of the Young Artists’ Competition, played the piano recital that is the subject of this release, and gave masterclasses over two successive days, ending on 1 June. Less than three months later he was dead.

Fiorentino (1927-1998) seems to have retained the master tapes of the recital as these are the source of this disc. He opens with a compelling performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV532, a work he had recorded in the 1950s but one to which he returned for its grandeur and sonorous command. Arranged for piano by Busoni, Fiorentino revised his fellow Italian’s work to a modest degree. A few trivial early slips apart, his playing is equal to the music’s demands, as he draws out the most powerful sonorities from his Steinway, the Fuga emerging in an arc of overpowering splendour.

The seriousness of his recital – Bach, Beethoven, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff – is one that he had been fulfilling for much of his performing career. Certainly this recital bears very obvious similarities to those he gave in the Siemensvilla in Berlin where, in a 1994 radio recital, for example, a Bach Prelude and Fugue – the so-called ‘St Anne’, BWV552 - was followed by Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata (as here) and Prokofiev’s Eighth. Compendious boxes on Piano Classics document these Berlin sessions as well as the earlier part of his career.

Irrespective of the essentially standard nature of this recital the performances are untouched by routine. Beethoven’s Op.110 sonata is powerfully declaimed, the chording strong, the expressive temperature cumulatively moving after the Fuga has done its work. He also recorded this in Dortmund and it’s available on APR 7036. The Taipei recording is certainly visceral and some will find it over-bright but it certainly captures Fiorentino without any sub-fusc studio manipulation.

In both Russian works there is an extra intensity in these live performances. He is much faster in the Rachmaninoff (the 1931 revision) in Taipei than he had been earlier in Berlin – yet only four years separates the performances – and the reading is less bass-heavy and instead charged with a visceral sense of attack and engagement. True, many will find him more poetic and limpid in Berlin, given his Taipei tempo, but the finale is really arresting here – fantastically animated. Similarly in Scriabin’s Second Sonata, his stakes are higher than in Berlin. Not only does the Berlin reading sound rather darker – the Taiwan recording is much brighter in this respect – but this live one is also the clearer and the more translucent.

After this level of intensity Fiorentino gave his audience four encores. He played two Chopin waltzes – a known reportorial strength – before unveiling Moszkowski’s Etude de Virtuosité, Op.72 No.6 which he tops with a charming, and calming, Mendelssohn Spinning Song (Op.67 No.4).

Recorded brightly, and at a relatively high level, this recital preserves Fiorentino’s wonderful tone across its range. With fine audio restoration from Emilio Pessina and a good booklet note this release also makes an immediate appeal to the senses. The vitality and intensity of the performances exceed those to be heard in the Piano Classics series dedicated to the pianist; superb though these are, they remain, largely, radio broadcasts. Here Fiorentino is a tiger on the loose.

Jonathan Woolf

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