Sergio Fiorentino; The Berlin Recordings
Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
rec. Berlin, 1994-97
Track listing below
PIANO CLASSICS PCLM0033 [10 CDs: 11:30:00]
Sergio Fiorentino’s Berlin recordings were made toward the end of his life, between 1994 and 1997. The performances that make up the ten discs of this remarkable set - remarkable for its musical generosity, tonal warmth and freedom from dogmatism - last eleven hours, give or take, and will surely be welcomed by admirers of the art of the great Italian pianist, whose death in 1998 ended the sessions definitively.
Some, perhaps all, have certainly been issued before by APR in single volumes, but to collect them in this way is to cut the Gordion knot of discographical confusion. Those who may have found his earlier recordings rather aloof - he recorded, for example, on LP for William Barrington-Coupe’s label under a bizarre menagerie of pseudonyms (Paul Procopolis most famously) - will not find the same reserve here. They will certainly not find it in his Schumann, where the G minor Sonata is taken at supremely well judged tempi, and with dextrous pedalling and a real elevation of spirit in the slow movement The Fantasie is perhaps less convincing, but maybe the recording exaggerated something of a lack of dynamic shaping.
Fiorentino wasn’t necessarily known for his Bach but I found it spellbinding to listen to him. True, he does what many have done and fills in bass lines; true, too, his approach to tempi is inconsistent and sometimes daringly slow; for ‘daringly’ critical listeners will substitute the word ‘terribly’. Taking a quarter of an hour over the Allemande of the Fourth Partita is, even I have to admit, something of a liability, but so thoughtful are the results elsewhere that one must follow him, even if one doesn’t necessarily sanction the results. His articulation in Bach is marvellously clear and his tonal resources are vividly intact.
Fiorentino’s B minor Chopin sonata is a powerfully sculpted affair, architecturally cogent, but sporting some octave editorialising that won’t be to all tastes. He is at his most convincing in the long paragraphs of the sonata, and manages to drive the music onwards without rushing. Russian repertoire wasn’t neglected. His Rachmaninoff D minor and B flat minor Sonatas don’t teem with Slavic intensity but instead retain integrity by virtue of their demanding approach and structural integrity. Fiorentino doesn’t stint climactic moments here; he can thunder with the best of them. He essays three Scriabin sonatas, repertoire that many will simply not recognise as having been in his purview, which is to underestimate the breadth of that repertory, as well as Fiorentino’s questing intelligence. He plays the First, Second and Fourth sonatas with iron control, but always with a brain seeking to make structural sense of the music, whether it darts impressionistically, Chopinesquely or mystically. This is not Scriabin playing in the galvanic Russian way - but then which way is the ‘Russian’ way? Sofronitzky, Neuhaus, Feinberg, Richter, Gilels? So, too, one finds Prokofiev’s Eighth Sonata played with powerful control, and its grandeur and menace held in fine balance.
There is so much more to enjoy; genial Schubert Impromptus and rather more grandly incisive performances of the sonatas in A major D664, A minor D537, and the great and nobly played B flat major D960. We witness more editorial tinkering in places during Liszt’s Sonata, but the results are surely more than deserving of the highest admiration. For a pianist such as Fiorentino, a mediation between freedom and control is unavoidable in a work like this. But Fiorentino would always weight his performance on the side of structural cohesion, sculpting phrases like a fly fisherman casting sure arcs into the uncertain water. This is what makes this Liszt sonata performance so impressive. It’s a performance to return to time and again.
I would say the same too, of his Franck, where he cuts to the expressive heart of the matter with grandeur and nobility. This is equally true of Bauer’s arrangement of the Prelude, fugue and variation Op.18. There is no waste in his performances, no overpointing or deleterious gestures. A stern critic might, however, point to those moments where Fiorentino does slightly distend phrases, a distension that, whilst beautiful in itself, can be seen to interrupt Franck’s sense of drama. These performances however remain truly poetic, a governing quality that Fiorentino found in music to which he was closest.
The booklet notes make for attractive, sometimes wistful reading.
These excellently recorded performances hold an honoured place in Fiorentino’s recorded legacy, a refining and amplifying of a legacy dating from the 1950s onwards. There are good reasons for thinking this the most impressive body of his recordings. There are good reasons, too, to add this hugely impressive set to your collection.
Jonathan Woolf  
There are good reasons to add this hugely impressive set to your collection.

Track listing 
CD 1
FANTASIE in C major Op. 17
Recording: 19 October 1996 (1-3); 18 October 1997 (4,5,10), 14 October 1995 (6-9), 15 October 1995 (11,12) Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 73:14

CD 2
Piano Sonata No. 13 in A major D664
Impromptus Op. 90 D899
Piano Sonata No. 4 in A minor D537
Recording: 20 October 1996 (1-3, 8-10), 18 October 1997 (4-7), Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 67:29

CD 3
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58
Piano Sonata No. 21 in B flat major D960
Recording: 8-9 October 1994, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 68:17

CD 4
Ballade No. 1 in D flat major
Ballade No. 2 in B minor
La leggierezza
Sonata in B minor
Recording: 18-19 October 1997, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 76:42

CD 5
Prélude, fugue et variation, Op. 18 (Arr. Bauer)
Prélude, choral et fugue
Prélude, aria et final
Recording: 14 October 1995 (1,2,6-9), 8 October 1995 (3-5)
Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 67:19

CD 6
Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor Op. 19 (Sonata-fantasie)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 36 (1931 version)
Piano Sonata No 8 in B flat major Op. 84
Recording: 8 October 1994, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 63:11

CD 7
Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor Op. 6
Piano Sonata No. 1 in D minor Op. 28
Recording: 14-15 October 1995, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Producer: Remus Platen
Engineer: Siegfried Schubert-Weber
Total time: 72:21

CD 8
Prelude & Fugue in D major BWV532 (Transcriber Busoni, arranged Fiorentino)
French Suite No. 5 in G major BWV 816
Suite from Partita No. 3 in E major BWV 1006 (Transcribed Rachmaninoff)
Prelude & Fugue in E flat major, BWV552 (St. Anne) (Transcribed Busoni, arranged Fiorentino)
Recording: October 1996, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 65:39

CD 9
Partita No. 1 in B flat major BWV825
Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor BWV1001 (transcribed Fiorentino)
Partita No. 4 in D major BWV828
Recording: 19 October 1996, Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 75:37

CD 10
Suite Bergamasque
Sonata in E major
Sonata in D minor
Etude in F major Op 72/6
GABRIEL FAURÉ (Arr. Fiorentino)
Après un rêve
Carnaval Op.9
Valse oubliée No.1
Recording: 15 October 1995 (7-9), 19 October 1996 (11), 20 October 1996 (10), 18 October 1997 (1-6, 12-14) Konzertsaal Siemensvilla, Berlin
Total time: 76:44