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Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Live in USA
rec. 1996-1999
RHINE CLASSICS RH-015 [9 CDs: 673:00]

This recently released 9CD collection from Rhine Classics documents Sergio Fiorentino’s live performances in the USA between 1996 and 1998. The lion’s share of the concerts derive from the Newport Festival, in addition to two performances from Alice Tully Hall, New York and a couple of live broadcasts courtesy of WGBH Radio Boston.

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, but sadly this Indian summer was to be brief, and was cut short by his sudden death on 22 August 1998 aged seventy.

He opens three of his recitals with Bach, transcribed by Busoni. There are two performances of the Prelude and Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552 “St. Anne”, one from The Breakers, Newport, the other from Alice Tully Hall, New York. The former is in better sound, with the piano sounding distant in the latter. What attracts me to his Bach are the organ-like sonorites he achieves. There’s clarity of articulation and delineation of polyphonic lines in the fugues, with the preludes grandiloquent and soul-searching.

On 16 July 1997 at Marble House, Newport, Fiorentino performed a Beethoven programme. It featured the Piano Sonata No 26 in E-flat major, Op 81a “Les Adieux”, prefaced by the 6 Bagatelles Op 126. The Sonata’s three movements vividly portray the mood of farewell, the sense of loss and the joy and celebration of homecoming.  The only other of the composer’s sonatas in the set is an Alice Tully Hall performance from 11 March 1998 of No 31 in A flat. He has a memory lapse in the middle of the Fuga, which he skillfully extricates himself from.

Poetry, intimacy and warmth inform Schubert’s Sonata in B flat, D960. Fiorentino has full measure of the work’s architecture and structure. The dark elemental forces of the slow movement make their presence felt, with the bright and joyous Scherzo providing some relieving balm. The genial song-like character of the outer movements of the Sonata in A major D 664 is a welcome counterpoise to the melancholic and bittersweet flavour of the central Andante.

Chopin is well represented. The entire Ochre Court, Newport, dated 13 July 1997 was devoted to the composer and titled “Chopiniana”, and is presented on CD 4. It includes a variety of preludes, waltzes, nocturnes and mazurkas. The waltzes are the least successful. I find them rather heavy-handed, generally lacking the subtlety of Arthur Rubinstein. The Nocturne in D flat, Op 27, No 2 has a hypnotic beauty, and Fiorentino allows the bel canto melody to gently float over a discreet left-hand semiquaver arpeggio accompaniment. There’s an even finer traversal recorded in New York’s Yamaha Salon that same year. Subtle, flexible rhythm and tasteful rubato combine to clinch the success of the four mazurkas. Much the same can be said for the idiomatically rendered Polonaise No 1 in C sharp minor. It’s worth mentioning a superb performance of the epic Fourth Ballade from Boston Radio on CD 9. It captures the striking contrasts between tender lyricism and violent drama.

Schumann’s Fantasy in C major was a work close to pianist’s heart, and we are fortune to have three performances, with the Alice Tully Hall traversal being the most unsuccessful sonically. Unfortunately, the third movement in the 1996 Boston Radio broadcast breaks off suddenly at 8:16 at the start of a nine minute interview the pianist gave to the presenter. So, it’s the 6 July 1996 Newport Festival performance which is the most compelling. It’s a performance of passion and unresolved longing, and Fiorentino’s improvisatory approach makes a striking impact emotionally, with textures laid bare. The technical horrors of the second movement are negotiated with ease, and the finale captivates for its poetic and dream-like qualities.

Fiorentino plays the revised 1931 version of Rachmaninoff’s Second Sonata. It’s a muscular and big-boned approach, contouring the peaks and troughs of the work’s rhapsodic narrative. That’s not to say there aren’t some lyrical moments, as in the second movement. In the third, the pianist unleashes tremendous passion, energy and fire. There are two performances of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No 2 in G-sharp minor, Op 19 “Sonata-Fantasy”. Fiorentino’s impressionistic colours and myriad shadings conjure a mystical effect, and the second movement’s pianissimos are breathtaking.

It’s pleasing to hear the pianist in chamber music collaborations, and there are two marvelous examples in the collection. Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano and Winds, Op 16, is an early work, overflowing with freshness and lyricism, and this performance from the Newport Festival 1997 doesn’t disappoint. All involved are on top form, and deliver a performance of striking balance and polished perfection. The joie de vivre of the final rondo is infectious. The Franck Quintet, taped in Newport a year earlier, is a reading of emotional urgency and smouldering potency. The wistful slow movement radiates an autumnal glow, with the framing outer movements heated and intense.

These recitals were taped in the last years of the pianist’s life. The material derives from several sources and has been expertly restored by the 24bit/96Khz remastering process. The audio quality throughout is, for the most part, very good. The booklet includes detailed track listings and timings, in addition to a selection of contemporary reviews of the concerts by eminent critics. Photographs of Fiorentino relaxing at the pool table are a pleasing bonus. A quote from Eric Johnson, Director of Yamaha Artist Services (October 1998), encapsulates what this compelling collection has to offer: “My life is richer from having known and heard him”.

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 No 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 Bachh / 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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