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Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Live in Germany 1993
rec. January 1993, Münster (Bach) and December 1993,
Dortmund. Warstein, Paderborn
APR 6034 [63:17 + 72:59]

Sergio Fiorentino 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. 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’d 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. In 1974 he withdrew from the concert stage in order to devote his time to teaching. In the early 1990s he made a surprisingly late come back. A performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody in Rome in 1991 was met with much critical acclaim. A year later he was invited to Germany for four recitals. So successful were these that he was invited back for three trips in 1993. It’s these recitals which provide the source for this recently released twofer. Sadly, his Indian summer was to be brief, and was cut short by his sudden death on 22 August 1998 aged seventy.

CD 1 opens with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 arr. Ferrucio Busoni, with Fiorentino’s own touchings up. These Busoni transcriptions work extremely well, capturing the full range of sonorities of the organ. Fiorentino’s performance has nobility and grandeur. A year ago I reviewed a concert the pianist gave in the Novel Hall, Taipei, Taiwan and released on Rhine Classics (review). That performance was dated 29 May 1998. This earlier traversal from Münster is a little more polished. The second item in the Taiwan concert was Beethoven’s Op 110, and it follows the Bach here, having been taped in Dortmund. That same serenity imbues the opening movement, and there are times when the pianist achieves some breathtaking pianissimos. The Adagio recreates an atmosphere of darkness and despair, with the fugue crisply articulated and delineated. From Warstein we have a captivating reading of Chopin’s Second Sonata. The lyrical second subject of the opener is enchanting, with the scherzo providing a fiendish contrast. I’m thankful he doesn’t over-sentimentalize the Funeral March, yet it’s in the finale where he evokes what Arthur Rubinstein described as “…….the winds of night sweeping over churchyard graves, the dust blowing and the dust that remains”.  Scriabin’s brief Piano Sonata No 4 is cast in two movements. Fiorentino holds together the motivic units and, at the end, signs off with all guns blazing.

A radiant performance of Schumann’s Fantasie in C major ushers in CD 2. Undoubtedly it’s the highlight of the set. Fiorentino executes the first movement with rhetorical grandeur, and drives the dotted rhythms and syncopations of the second movement with energy. The final movement is one of the best I’ve heard. He takes it slower than most, but you’re transported to another world of dreamy, ethereal calm. The Gounod/Liszt Faust Waltz is every bit as fine as Cherkassky’s version. Strauss-Tausig Man lebt nur einmal! and the Strauss-Godowsky Fledermaus are two novelties which must surely have garnered approval from the Münster audience. The four encores are waltzes to which Fiorentino brings the same commitment and devotion.

These recitals were released 25 years ago as APR7036, and they return in an APR makeover. Paul Merten’s notes from the original issue are included, but have been added to by the producer Mike Spring. These non-profit recordings were made using a pair of microphones positioned half a meter from the piano, and the resulting audio quality is excellent, with consistency spanning all four venues.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 arr. Busoni. ed/rev. Fiorentino [13:28]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No 31 in A-flat major, Op 110 (1821-22) [20:00]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No 2 in B-flat minor, Op 35 (1839) [21:55]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Sonata No 4 in F-sharp, Op 30 (1903) [7:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasie in C, Op 17 (1839) [34:00]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Paraphrase on a waltz from Gounod's Faust, S407 (1861) [9:35]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Valse Caprice No 2, 'Man lebt nur einmal', Op 167 arr. Tausig [6:29]
Leopold GODOWSKY (1870–1938)
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus (1874) after Johann Strauss II [8:27]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Waltz in E-flat major, Op 18 'Grande Valse Brillante' [4:49]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Waltz in A-flat, Op 40 No 8 arr. Fiorentino [3:02]
Fryderyk CHOPIN
Waltz No 7 in C-sharp minor, Op 64 No 2 (1847) [3:15]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebeslieder Walzer, Op 52 Nos 1 and 6 (1868-69) [3:19]



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