Sergio Fiorentino in Taiwan = BACH (arr. Busoni): Prelude and Fugue in D Major, BWV 532; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; SCRIABIN: Piano Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp minor, Op. 19 ”Sonata-Fantasy”; RACHMANINOV: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 36 (1931 vers.); CHOPIN: Valse No. 7 in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2; Valse No. 6 in D-flat Major, Op. 64, No. 1 “Minute”; MOSZKOWSKI: Etude de Virtuosite in F Major, Op. 72, No. 6; MENDELSSOHN: “Spinning Song” in C Major, Op. 67, No. 4 – Sergio Fiorentino, piano – Rhine Classics RH-009, 71:47 [www.rhineclassics.com] *****:

Taken from the private collection of Italian master-pianist Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998), this restored recital from Taiwan’s Novel Hall (29 May 1998) captures the artist at the peak of his form in splendid sound, courtesy of Emilio Pessina.  The resonance of Fiorentino’s Steinway proves stunning, especially profound in the Scriabin Sonata, whose liquid appeal to the senses mesmerizes and dazzles in its erotic figurations.  But to single out any of the individual works provides an immediate disproportion to the holistic nature of the recital, whose emotional canvas vibrates on an equal plane with the intellectual, aesthetic and dramatic context that unfolds only months before Fiorentino’s untimely death.

Fiorentino opens with the carillon brilliance of Bach’s D Major Prelude and Fugue for Organ as transcribed by Busoni and re-edited by Fiorentino himself.  Many of the figures imitate aspects of the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in their stately and layered textures. A kind of obsessional plaint runs through the middle and upper voices, punctuated in mighty antiphons. The potent, deceptive cadence that sustains the lingering drama of the Prelude carries us through “circuitous routes” to the Fugue, with its own, repeated forms of mesmerism.

The Beethoven Sonata in A-flat Major, Op. 110 bears its own homage to Bach, in the form of the arioso dolente’s imparting of the “Es ist Vollbracht” from the St. John Passion. The “tragic song” appears in forceful gestures, even upside down in fugal form but played “more living,” in the sense of spiritually revitalized. Fiorentino provides a wonderful sonic image in the polyphony here in Beethoven’s late style, countered by the almost punishing fusillades of the second movement, Allegro molto. The last movement might well communicate to us Fiorentino’s “last will and testament” of his musical and aesthetic faith.  I can only compare this rendition to that last recorded version of this work by Solomon Cutner, who would soon be condemned to a life of enforced paralysis away from the keyboard.

Scriabin’s Second Sonata (1898) owes its emotional progress to aspects of the sea, “the southern night along the seashore,” followed by what the composer calls “the dark agitation of the deep deep sea.” Besides the home key and various chromatics, the piece exploits E Major and the key of C-sharp minor from Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.”  Fiorentino reminds us how much of Chopin invests itself into the composer’s early style, though the transitions and gestures point no less to Moszkowski etudes and aspects of Impressionism.  The dramatic pulse of the development section of movement one forecasts the explosive and demonic vitality of the Presto movement, whose rapid alterations of crescendo and decrescendo rival the so-called “Ocean” Etude of Chopin, Op. 25, No. 12.

The major works of the program conclude with Rachmaninov’s 1931 revision of his 1913 original of the Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Major. The opening Allegro agitato immediately thrusts us into an emotional maelstrom, marked by the interval of a third. Fiorentino seems from the first to grasp the piece as a whole, not merely in terms of span and finger dexterity, but in the affective design of the work, whose taut drama moves feverishly to a preconceived end.  Marked Non allegro, the second movement plays as a meditative elegy, underlined at key cadences by glints and shards of pure nostalgia. This music central section moves to a Lisztian fervor in crushing block chords before the (at first) quiet advent of the nervous, triumphant finale, with its especial brand of martial ethos. Fiorentino imparts a mania, a frenzy of emotion into the driving furnace of notes that cascades past us. After the torrent concludes, we know definitely why Michelangeli referred to Fiorentino as “the only other pianist.” For the encores, let us suffice to say the combine elastic virtuosity and eminently canny charm, salon music made poignant and noble, at once.

—Gary Lemco

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