Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Early live & unissued takes
rec. 1947-1962

By my reckoning, this is the fourth volume issued by Rhine Classics in their Sergio Fiorentino Edition. My reviews of the previous releases can be found here: review ~ review ~ review. The pianist was born in Naples in 1927. When he was eleven he received a stipend from the Italian Ministry of Education enabling him to study at the Conservatory San Pietro a Majella. Master-classes with Carlo Zecchi in Salzburg were to follow. After several competition successes, a concert career was launched. In 1955 he was severely injured in a plane accident and, as a result, had to pause his performing career. He took up teaching. He discovered that when he eventually resumed his career he’d largely been forgotten. At the end of the fifties he began a second career in England, where he made some recordings 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 1990s he made something of a comeback to the concert platform but, sadly, his Indian summer was to be brief and was cut short by his sudden death on 22 August 1998 aged seventy.

The earliest recordings here date from the 1947 Concours de Genève in which Fiorentino took 2nd prize in the piano class. The venue is the Victoria Hall, Geneva. The 78 rpm acetates are in singularly fine sound for their age and provenance. There are two works. Bach’s Prelude & Fugue No 20 in A minor, BWV 889 (WTC II) is remarkable for its penetrating tone, clarity of articulation and expressive intimacy. Fiorentino intelligently structures the Chopin Fantasie, gradually moving from modest beginnings to high-octane intensity. In the central section he finds poetic serenity. Enthusiastic applause follows each of the items.

In June 1955, the pianist made a live studio broadcast from Edinburgh for the BBC of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor. The orchestra is the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Ian Whyte. The performance is preceded by a brief opening announcement. There’s no doubting that the Fourth Concerto isn’t as memorable as its predecessors. Fiorentino captures the works elusive elements, probing its transient moods and making some success of the concerto as Michelangeli did. His virtuosity is flawless. Whyte is to be commended also for extracting the very best from his players in terms of showcasing the composer’s lavish orchestral palette. All in all, a very pleasing performance.

The remainder of the disc features unissued takes from Saga recording sessions set down in the late 50s and very early 60s. The first three items were released on a Saga LP (XID-5013) and wrongly attributed to the Russian pianist Leff Pouishnoff, who also recorded for the label. Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz is a reading of breathtaking brilliance and brimming over with diablerie. Chopin’s Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major, Op 61 is rhapsodic and improvisatory in Fiorentino’s hands with an underlying melancholic vein. The central section of the composer’s Fantasy Impromptu is poetically sculpted without resorting to sentimental excess. Chopin’s Tarantella is a dazzling tour-de-force, whilst the pianist’s own arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise is soul-searching with a certain elegiac quality.

The contents for this release derive from several diverse sources – 78s, radio and studio broadcasts and LPs. The entire collection, including the fascinating photos have been kindly supplied by Ernst Lumpe, who also provides an interesting portrait of the pianist in the booklet. Further insights can be gleaned from a 1985 interview Fiorentino gave to Gianni Cesarini. The excellent 24bit 96kHz remasterings by Emilio Pessina do Fiorentino’s memory proud.

Stephen Greenbank

1947 | Geneva International Music Competition:
Bach Prelude & Fugue No 20 in A minor, BWV 889 (WTC II)
Chopin Fantaisie in F minor, Op 49
live | Victoria Hall, Geneva | 3.X.1947

1955 | BBC broadcast:
Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No 4 in G minor, Op 40
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra | Ian Whyte
live in studio | BBC Hall, Edinburgh | 22.VI.1955

Unissued takes from SAGA recording sessions:
Liszt Mephisto-Walzer No.1, S.514
Chopin Polonaise Fantaisie in A-flat major, Op 61
Chopin Fantaisie-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op 66
Hamburg, 1958
Chopin Tarantella in A-flat major, Op 43
London, 1960
Rachmaninoff / Fiorentino Vocalise, Op 34 No 14
London, 1962

Published: November 1, 2022