Sergio Fiorentino: Early Live & Unissued Takes, 1947-1962 = Works by BACH; CHOPIN; RACHMANINOFF; LISZT – Sergio Fiorentino, piano/ BBC Northern Orchestra/ Ian Whyte – Rhine Classics RH-026 (2022) (77:55) [www.rhineclassics.com] *****:
Producer and editor Emilio Pessina has compiled a series of diverse repertory performed by Italian piano master Sergio Fiorentino (1927-1998), the concerts culled from the collection of Ernst Lumpe. The various performances originate from venues including a live concert in Edinburgh, studio recordings from Hamburg and London, and previously unissued acetate 78s from Geneva’s Victoria Hall. Most happily, the sonic quality from the sources, whether acetates, vinyl, or original master tapes, has been excellently restored, and the electrifying spontaneity of Fiorentino’s playing proves irresistible.
The collection, assembled and remastered by Emilio Pessina, opens with 78 rpm transfers of Geneva, 3 October 1947 of music by Bach and Chopin, the A Minor Prelude and Fugue No. 20 from WTC II and the Chopin Fantasie in F Minor. The supple flow of Bach’s polyphony projects, simultaneously, a somber mood of inner contemplation. The quicksilver passage of Bach’s ornaments in the “Prelude” no less impress for their sense of timbre. Despite the staccato filigree of the “Fugue” subject, Fiorentino manages a panoply of nuance within the dynamic limits Bach imposes. The audience responds appreciatively. The Chopin 1841 Fantasie begins most funereal in tone, but the music overcomes its melancholy to assume an ardent, soaring passion thoroughly embraced by Fiorentino, who speeds up and retreats in a series of spasmodic episodes that threaten to wreck his keyboard. The interplay of light and dark, intimacy and heroism, especially in the transition into the chorale, plays out in a gripping, romantic drama that mesmerizes the audience as well as us. In the course of Chopin’s epic journey to the relative major of A-flat in which to conclude, Fiorentino has lit the way with a convulsive, impassioned grandiosity resonant with personality.
Ironic, isn’t it, that Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who recorded for EMI the Rachmaninoff 1926 (rev. 1928) Fourth Piano Concerto in G Minor and made it more famous than had the composer, should praise Fiorentino as “the only other pianist,” who here delivers that same, often elusive concerto in a live concert from Edinburgh, 22 June 1955? The commentator, by the way, mis-pronounces our soloist as “Fiorentini.” Editor Pessina has for this edition restored the unabridged tapes of the original concert, which proves feverishly driven by all participants. The opening movement, Allegro vivace, despite a potent entrance, settles for brilliant, chromatic runs and cadenza passages, although its one big theme invites memorization. The coda never fails to startle by its abruptness. The C Major Largo dwells on a theme not so far removed from “Three Blind Mice,” while not devolving into triteness, despite the repetitive character of the writing. The last movement, appearing attacca, ripples with bravura effects virtually lifted from the Op. 39 Etudes-Tableaux. The effect resembles an expanded version of salon, jazz music, condensed into conventional, symphonic form. Ian Whyte and his ensemble make every effort to instill warmth and lyrical sincerity, as well as fiendish bravura, into a work that eludes easy categorization among the composer’s oeuvre, a hybrid of neo-Classic architecture and contemporary, rhythmic formulas.
The remainder of the disc derives from unissued Saga recording sessions from two venues, Hamburg and London. Saga had promoted Fiorentino under the pseudonym “Leff Pouishnoff” for whatever reason. The Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (rec. Hamburg, July 1958) requires no “mask” to conceal the explosive talent realizing this immense, exhilarating vehicle for spectacular pianism. Anyone auditioning this carefully “orchestrated” concept will make favorable comparisons with the likes of Horowitz, Bolet, and Cziffra. The glistening, legato runs and furious, double octaves themselves warrant the price of admission.
The ensuing Chopin diptych from the same session will not be outdone by Liszt. I would argue the Chopin 1846 Polonaise-Fantasie as the highlight of this recital. The work poses any number of challenges beyond mere technique, in maintaining the tautness and affective continuity of the evolving line, as the piece synthesizes both national architecture and poetic freedom into its intricate filigree. Fiorentino invests his rendition with ample, chromatic color and articulate polyphony, as required by Chopin’s late style. Fiorentino makes a carefully graduated transition into the central section in B Major, his left hand a velvet carpet of sustaining harmonies. The nuanced intimacy of the occasion demands perpetual re-hearing to appreciate the thoroughly ingrained mastery of the Chopin style. The last pages thunder in passionate resonance, long to be savored by us cognoscenti. The well-familiar Fantasie-Impromptu of 1834 (pub. 1855) benefits from Fiorentino’s ease of phrase in the outer sections, and his plastic delivery of the middle section lyric in D-flat Major in its degrees of slight variation. That both Chopin and Fioretnino conceive the piano as a singing instrument is never in doubt.
The Chopin A-flat Major Tarantella takes Fiorentino to London, 4 March 1960 at Olympic Studios. Chopin found Rossini’s La Danza inspiring, so in 1841 he set his own moto perpetuo in Neapolitan style. Chopin referred to his finished product as “dreadful,” while Schumann simply called it “wild.” Fiorentino controls the piece in grand style from beginning to end, and damn the torpedoes! Fiorentino concludes with his own 1962 arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s lulling 1912 Vocalise, recorded 30 August 1962 at Triumph Sound. Simplicity and sincerity, the defining qualities in the man himself, resonate in Fiorentino’s brief but memorable playing. A disc well recommended.
Sergio Fiorentino: Early Live & Unissued Takes, 1947-1962:
BACH: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 889;
CHOPIN: Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49;
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Minor, Op. 40;
LISZT: Mephisto Waltz No. 1;
CHOPIN: Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat Major, Op. 61; Fantasie-Impromptu in C# Minor, Op. 66; Tarantella in A-flat Major, Op. 43;
RACHMANINOFF (arr. Fiorentino): Vocalise, Op. 34/14
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