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Jonathan Woolf
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Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
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 [18:36]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Sonata No.2 in G sharp minor, Op.19 “Sonata-Fantasy” [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]
rec. live, 29 May 1998, Novel Hall, Taipei, Taiwan

In a fascinating interview conducted by Gianni Cesarini – it appears in the accompanying booklet – the Italian pianist Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998) takes the unusual step of revealing something of his enigmatic character. He was a pupil of Luigi Finzio and Carlo Zecchi, and gifted with a transcendental technique. A spectacular career beckoned. For a while in the 1940s, he travelled the world. He gave concerts to great critical acclaim, and made recordings in the USA and London. Gradually he withdrew, limiting his public appearances. The rigors of concertizing – planes, hotels and schedules – lost their appeal. He was a modest man, shunned ostentation and self-promotion, and settled to teach in Naples. Besides, he had other interests: shooting, computers, karate and sports cars. He took private pupils without payment, and his simple philosophy of life was: “I could have made lots of money, not only as a soloist, but also as a teacher. But my type of living needs little money. I have all I need and I don’t want any more.” This sums up this great human being.

In 1998, Fiorentino found himself in Taiwan. This live concert at the Novel Hall in Taipei took place on 29 May. It was one of a number of events on the pianist’s schedule, which included jury work, masterclasses and participation in Taipei’s International Piano and Vocal Music Workshops.

The programme opens with J. S. Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532, in an arrangement by Busoni, with Fiorentino’s own touchings-up. The nobility and Gothic splendour of the Prelude provides a fitting curtain raiser. The pianist’s eloquent and sonorous rendition, matched with an astounding technical command, would certainly have made all those present sit up and take notice.

Serenity and poise characterize the opening of Beethoven’s Op. 110. I am particularly struck by the immaculate voicing of chords at the beginning. One feels doubt and despair in the dark and brooding Adagio, and the following fugal section is deftly articulated. This is a performance in which I sense the probing depth of Schnabel and spiritual dimension of Kempff.

We turn to Russian composers next. Scriabin at first had reservations about calling his two-movement work a sonata. As a compromise, it became known as a "Sonata-Fantasy". This wonderful work evokes the sea-shore, moonlight and oceanic rage. Fiorentino’s vision has feverish intensity. In terms of sheer fantasy, dynamic range, myriad colour and nuance, the performance stands favourably alongside Nicolai Demidenko’s reading on the extinct Conifer label. Next, Fiorentino performs Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision of his Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat Major. This big-boned reading showcases the pianist’s supreme technical command. He achieves a wide dynamic range, from thunderous fortissimos to whispering pianissimos. In the second movement, there are some tender lyrical moments, radiantly expressed. The finale is intense and impassioned.

As a treat, the audience were given four encores, delivered with infectious charm; undoubtedly the icing on the cake.

Three months later, on 22 August, Fiorentino sadly died. That gives added poignancy to this live concert. The beautiful audio restorations come courtesy of Emilio Pessina, with enthusiastic applause thankfully retained.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

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