et Fugue; Danse lente; Prelude, Aria et Final – Sergio Fiorentino, piano
APR 5563 67:19 (Distrib. Albany)****:
The music of Belgian master Cesar Franck comprises IX of the Edition
Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998), the inscriptions made October 8-10, 1995
on the Steinway D-274. The most apparent aspect of the group is the
addition of two pieces which usually receive no attention from
pianists: the 1862 Prelude, Fugue and Variation, here arranged by
Harold Bauer, and the second piano transcription performance I know,
the first being that by Vladimir Viardo. The other addition is the
little Danse lente (c. 1885), perhaps a model for Debussy’s more famous
“slower-than-slow” waltz composed twenty years later.
Few pianists have taken up the diptych Prelude, Chorale et Fugue and
Prelude, Aria et Final; one could point to Alfred Cortot, Yves Nat, and
to Jorge Bolet. But the rare, tender delicacy of the Prelude, Fugue and
Variation is enough to warrant collectors’ attention for itself: the
five-bar phrases move with lyrical grace, a diatonic simplicity, until
the Lisztian Lento (with hints of Saint-Saens, to whom the piece is
dedicated) takes us to the Bach-inspired Fugue, later accompanied by a
rippling liquid variation on the opening material.
I have been fond of Prelude, Chorale et Fugue (1884) ever since owning
my first inscription on 78 rpm discs, by Artur Rubinstein. Add
Malcuzynski and Richter to the mix, then Bolet and Cortot and
occasional excerpts with Jean Casadesus, and I had something like a
tradition of performance practice. Fiorentino’s is a studied, plastic
approach to the thick chromatic harmonies and Bach-Wagner
cross-fertilized counterpoint. The expansive slowly evolving sonorous
patina simply basks in the Steinway’s swell, only to dispel the thick
textures for the piety of the Chorale. The polyphony moves briskly and
inexorably, with references to Parsifal and to Bach’s Cantata 21, until
the explosive, poignant climax, where arpeggios and chorale chords
merge ecstatically. Some staggering virtuosity from Fiorentino makes
this a classic reading.
The more elusive Prelude, Aria et Final (1887) comes off as a labored,
percussive, Lisztian etude in block-chord progressions, reminiscent of
Liszt’s own Ad Nos Salutarem Undem study for organ. The Aria does enjoy
some gentle arpeggios and touches of Liszt’s St. Francis legends. The
series of dissipating major chords that ends the Final indicates
something of how Fiortentino might have navigated Liszt’s Dante Sonata.
Some elegant playing by the suave and wily veteran Fiorentino, who –
even if he doesn’t quite sell the last piece – makes much of the first
two with epic readings.