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Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Live in USA
rec. 1996-98
RHINE CLASSICS RH-015 [9 CDs: 673:02]

The documentation of Sergio Fiorentino’s tours continues with this 9-CD box that contains American concert performances given between 1996-98. Rhine Classics has retained concert integrity, and doesn’t intersperse performances from one concert throughout the box, allowing one to hear whole performances except for those occasions when too much duplication would have been involved, even for his greatest admirers. The result is either a complete concert or items from complete concerts.

Completeness is the name of the game in the first disc, given at The Breakers, Newport in July 1996. The programme will be largely familiar as it opens with the Bach-Busoni-Fiorentino Prelude and Fugue for organ in D major, BWV 532 and continues with Schumann’s Fantasie. He is rather more measured here than in his 1998 performance of the Bach in Taiwan (see review) but conversely he is more driven in the finale of the Schumann than had been the case in Berlin two years earlier (see review). Small and inevitable variations of this kind are a consistent feature of the performances but of far more interest is his programming itself, such as here, for example, where he follows the Schumann with a series of brilliantly conceived waltzes – Gounod/Liszt and Tchaikovsky, the Richard Strauss-Otto Singer Rosenkavalier Waltz paraphrase in Fiorentino’s own transcription and so on. The second disc also contains very rare examples of Fiorentino as a collaborative artist when he joins young string quartet members for robust and refined readings of Franck’s Piano Quintet (some lovely delicacy in the central slow movement) and in Beethoven’s Quintet for piano and winds, where he shows just how congenial and self-effacing a partner he could be in such circumstances.

He seems thoroughly at home in Newport, from which concerts most of the music in these discs derives. His Tchaikovsky Theme with Variations is strongly characterised, and his playing of the Brahms Waltzes, Op.39 is notable for the way in which he inverts the sequence of the last two waltzes. He invariably ended with the A flat major, not the C sharp minor. We tend to hear too little of his Brahms. Refined elegance marks out his Beethoven Bagatelles whilst the Les Adieux sonata is never aloof but always warmly sensitive. For his concert in July 1997 at Ochre Court, Newport he designed an ingenious all-Chopin recital, presenting selections from the genres. Thus, there are four Preludes from Op.28, four Etudes from Op.10, then sequences of waltzes, Nocturnes, mazurkas and a single Ballade. It makes for a focused look at some of the most popular pieces, beautifully played. This recital has received prior, though very limited, release when it came out on volume 3 of the ‘Newport Music Festival’ in 1999; it’s been remastered to a high standard for this reissue.

Another standard programme that Fiorentino played frequently was the Bach-Busoni Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552 “St. Anne” followed by Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major. Valuable compare-and-contrast can be made via this July 1997 performance and the Bach-Busoni that Fiorentino performed in Berlin the previous year. Both are outstanding and increasingly voluptuous and commanding but he is more dramatic still in Newport. He recorded the Schubert in Berlin 1994 but again there is greater athleticism in Newport. Similarly, Schubert’s A major sonata, D664 is raptly played and arguably more communicative and lithe in Newport in July 1998 than he had been in 1996 in Berlin. There’s much more Schubert from this particular recital, notably the Impromptus, D899 which are just as convincing as his Berlin performance of October 1997. Don’t overlook Scriabin’s Second Sonata, one of his favoured works, which he also played in the recital. The opening of the two movements is strikingly more directional than his October 1994 performance (see Piano Classics PCLM0033-6).

In the seventh CD, which was given at Alice Tully Hall in New York, you’ll find duplicate performances of the Bach-Busoni “St Anne” and the Scriabin sonata. The former is very similar to the one he was to give three months later in The Breakers but the opening movement of the Scriabin shows how his interpretations were subject to subtle adjustments in tempo relationships. He was a superb Rachmaninovian as his reading of Sonata No.2 shows and this reading merely amplifies the virtues of the performance he gave in Berlin three years earlier, and which shares a very similar conception. He returned to Alice Tully Hall the following year where he began with his other major Bach opener, the Prelude and Fugue for organ in D major, BWV 532. This isn’t included – there is The Breakers’ performance to enjoy – and the recording opens with Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat major, Op.110. This Tully Hall recording is somewhat less focused and more distant than the others in this box and tends to be somewhat clangourous. Given the awesome stability and technical security he evinced in his live and studio recordings this Beethoven is notable for a very rare memory slip in the middle of the Fuga where he plays repeated granitic chords until he recovers and continues. There’s another Schumann Fantasie and then a sequence of delicious encores, including a scintillating Moszkowski Étincelles and his own much admired 1962 transcription of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise.

As a postscript to the above don’t overlook the reissued twofer on APR (see review) which charts his 1993 German performances. You’ll find it duplicates a number of works in Rhine’s box.

The last disc opens another vista on his musical performance life; radio broadcasts from WGBH Boston. He plays – inevitably – the Schumann Fantasie once again and finishes off with two Chopin waltzes but in between is an invaluable nine-minute interview, full of revealing details, between Fiorentino and host Richard Knisely. He plays the Chopin Fourth Ballade from another studio broadcast two years later and plays a brace of Chopin on a Yamaha Disklavier direct from the Yamaha Piano Salon in New York in 1997.

The various Newport Music Festival concerts and venues are outlined in the excellent booklet and there is an index of works performed as well as detailed track listings. Everything has been remastered to a high degree except where the original source material is inevitably somewhat compromised (that Alice Tully Hall concert but it’s the only such example). Some photographs grace the booklet – there’s a very good one of the charmingly reserved Fiorentino, in tie and tails, and the looming Igor Kipnis, for example - and some of the programmes are reprinted along with some of the adulatory critical responses from the local critics.

Add this to your Rhine Classics’ Rachmaninov set (see review) and his Taiwan disc and then consider it alongside his Berlin recordings to reach a truly impressive overview of Fiorentino in the 1990s.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Contents
CD1 | 74:02
Johann Sebastian Bach / Ferruccio Busoni / S.Fiorentino
Prelude and Fugue for organ in D major, BWV 532
Robert Schumann
Fantasie in C major, Op.17 (1836/38)
Charles Gounod / Franz Liszt
Paraphrase - Valse de l’opéra Faust, S.407 (1861)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky / S.Fiorentino
Walzer in A-flat major (Op.40/8)
Richard Strauss / Otto Singer II / S.Fiorentino
Concert Paraphrase on “Der Rosenkavalier” Waltz
Johann Strauss II / Carl Tausig
Paraphrase on “Man lebt nur einmal!” Walzer, Op.167 (Valse-Caprice No.2)
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 8 July 1996

CD2 | 79:05
Johann Strauss II / Leopold Godowsky
Symphonic Metamorphosis on themes by “Die Fledermaus” (1907)
encore/bis:
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.1 in E-flat major, Op.18 “Grande valse brillante”
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 8 July 1996
---
César Franck
Piano Quintet in F minor, CFF 121 (1879)
Sergiu Schwartz, 1st violin | Geoff Nuttall, 2nd violin
Barry Shiffman, viola | Suren Bagratuni, cello
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 13 July 1996
---
Ludwig van Beethoven
Quintet for Piano and Winds in E-flat major, Op.16 (1796)
Jane Murray, oboe | Charles Stier, clarinet
Susan Wood, bassoon | Eric Ruske, horn
recorded: live | Wakehurst Tent, Newport, RI | 12 July 1997

CD3 | 75:16
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Theme with Variations in A minor (1863/64)
Valse-Caprice in D major, Op.4 (1868)
recorded: live | Ochre Court, Newport, RI | 10 July 1996
---
Johannes Brahms
16 Waltzes, Op.39 (solo piano version, 1865)
recorded: live | The Elms, Newport, RI | 16 July 1997
---
Ludwig van Beethoven
- 6 Bagatelles Op.126 (1824)
- Piano Sonata No.26 in E-flat major, Op.81a “Les Adieux” (1809/10)
recorded: live | Marble House, Newport, RI | 16 July 1997

CD4 | 73:56
Frédéric Chopin
4 Preludes, from Op.28:
- No.15 in D-flat major (Sostenuto)
- No.16 in B-flat minor (Presto con fuoco)
- No.17 in A-flat major (Allegretto)
- No.23 in F major (Moderato)
3 Waltzes:
- No. 1 in E-flat major, Op.18 “Grande valse brillante” (Vivo)
- No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2 (Tempo giusto)
- No. 2 in A-flat major, Op.34/1 “Valse brillante” (Vivace)
2 Nocturnes:
- No. 8 in D-flat major, Op.27/2 (Lento sostenuto)
- No. 5 in F-sharp major, Op.15/2 (Larghetto)
4 Etudes, from Op.10:
- No. 4 in C-sharp minor (Presto)
- No. 6 in E-flat minor (Andante)
- No. 8 in F major (Allegro)
- No.10 in A-flat major (Vivace assai)
4 Mazurkas:
- No.32 in C-sharp minor, Op.50/3 (Moderato)
- No. 5 in B-flat major, Op.7/1 (Vivace)
- No.25 in B minor, Op.33/4 (Mesto)
- No.23 in D major, Op.33/2 (Vivace)
Polonaise No.1 in C-sharp minor, Op.26/1 (Allegro appassionato)
Ballade No.3 in A-flat major, Op.47 (Allegretto)
encores/bis:
Two Waltzes:
- No. 5 in A-flat major, Op.42 “Grande valse” (Vivace)
- No. 6 in D-flat major, Op.64/1 “Minute Waltz” (Molto vivace)
recorded: live | Ochre Court, Newport, RI | 13 July 1997

CD5 | 73:10
Johann Sebastian Bach / Ferruccio Busoni
Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552 “St. Anne”
Franz Schubert
Piano Sonata No.21 in B-flat major, D.960, Op.posth.
encore/bis:
Franz Schubert
Moment musical No.3 in F-minor, D.780, Op.94/3
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 15 July 1997
---
Franz Schubert
Piano Sonata No.13 in A major, D.664, Op.posth.120
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 10 July 1998

CD6 | 74:50
Franz Schubert / Franz Liszt
- Der Müller und der Bach (“Die Schöne Müllerin”, D.795 No.19)
- Frühlingsglaube (D.686)
Franz Liszt
- 3 Études de concert, S.144
- Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 in C-sharp minor, S.244/XII
Franz Schubert
4 Impromptus, D.899, Op.90
Alexander Scriabin
Piano Sonata No.2 in G-sharp minor, Op.19 “Sonata-Fantasy”
encore/bis:
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.7 in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2
recorded: live | The Breakers, Newport, RI | 10 July 1998

CD7 | 75:54
Alice Tully Hall, New York | 6 April 1997
Johann Sebastian Bach / Ferruccio Busoni
Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552 “St. Anne”
Alexander Scriabin
Piano Sonata No.2 in G-sharp minor, Op.19 “Sonata-Fantasy” (1892/97)
Sergei Rachmaninoff
Piano Sonata No.2 in B-flat minor, Op.36 (2nd version, 1931)
encores/bis:
Frédéric Chopin
- Waltz No.2 in A-flat major, Op.34/1 “Valse brillante”
- Waltz No.6 in D-flat major, Op.64/1 “Minute Waltz”
Felix Mendelssohn
Song Without Words in C major, Op.67/4 “Spinning Song”
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.7 in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2
Moritz Moszkowski
Etude de Virtuosité in F major, Op.72 No.6
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.1 in E-flat major, Op.18 “Grande valse brillante”
Franz Schubert
Moment musical No.3 in F-minor, D.780, Op.94/3
recorded: live | Alice Tully Hall, New York | 6 April 1997

CD8 | 75:12
Alice Tully Hall, New York | 11 March 1998
Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Sonata No.31 in A-flat major, Op.110
Robert Schumann
Fantasie in C major, Op.17
encores/bis:
Frédéric Chopin
Etude No.4 in C-sharp minor, Op.10/4
Robert Schumann
Romanze in F-sharp minor, Op.28 No.2
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.6 in D-flat major, Op.64/1 “Minute Waltz”
Moritz Moszkowski
Étincelles, Op.36 No.6 (from: 8 Morceaux caractéristiques)
Isaac Albéniz
Seguidillas, Op.232 No.5 (from: Cantos de España)
Sergei Rachmaninoff / S.Fiorentino
Vocalise, Op.34 No.14 (transcription 1962)
Frédéric Chopin
Waltz No.7 in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2
recorded: live | Alice Tully Hall, New York | 11 March 1998

CD9 | 71:37
WGBH Boston Radio “Classical Performances” by Richard Knisely
Robert Schumann
Fantasie in C major, Op.17 (1836/38)
interview with Sergio Fiorentino
Frédéric Chopin
- Waltz No.1 in E-flat major, Op.18 “Grande valse brillante”
- Waltz No.7 in C-sharp minor, Op.64/2
recorded: live in studio | WGBH Studio 1, Boston | 12 July 1996
---
WGBH Boston Radio “Classical Performances” by Alan McLellan
Frédéric Chopin
Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 (1842/43)
recorded: live in studio | WGBH Studio 1, Boston | 14 April 1998
---
Sergio Fiorentino plays Yamaha Disklavier
Frédéric Chopin
- Nocturne No.8 in D-flat major, Op.27/2
- Waltz No.5 in A-flat major, Op.42 “Grande valse”
recorded: studio | Yamaha Piano Salon, New York | 1997




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