Fiorentino unissued early RH026

Sergio Fiorentino (piano)
Early Live and Unissued Takes
rec. 1947-1962

This single disc covers a period of some 15 years in Fiorentino’s career, delving right back to the Geneva International Music Competition in 1947 when he was still not quite 20. The acetates have been preserved in surprisingly good sound and show him in Bach and Chopin. The former is the Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV889 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II. Brief though this example is, it shows a strong control of formal clarity and serves as an entrée to a programme that is soon graphically to open out. First though there’s the other competition piece, Chopin’s Fantaisie in F minor which reveals some youthful headiness and some fiddly moments but also some commanding bravura, duly received with enthusiastic applause.

Rachmaninov’s Fourth Concerto, with Ian Whyte directing the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in June 1955, was recorded onto acetate disc in mono.  It’s been previously released on Aldilà Records but this is a new and unabridged release in 24bit/96kHz. The sound itself is perfectly reasonable for the time albeit somewhat cramped. Whyte was to die prematurely in 1960 but had been a pianist and was a notably sympathetic and perceptive accompanist. He ensures that the strings respond to the piano’s playful roulades in the opening movement as much as they can. Not only that, but in the central movement, both he and Fiorentino find the right orchestral-solo colours, ensuring a performance of poetry, fluidity and nuance, Fiorentino blending with the orchestra with almost chamber-like discretion. The finale shows that Fiorentino had mastered questions of bravura and balance by this time and was already a leonine and imperturbable soloist.

The Saga LP sessions of July 1958 deserve a page of their own and you can find out much more in APR’s twofer devoted to Leff Pouishnoff (review). Saga released a number of Fiorentino’s recordings under Pouishnoff’s name and here three are restored and properly attributed. The Mephisto Waltz forms part of Fiorentino’s dazzling Lisztian discography whilst the Polonaise-Fantaisie, and Impromptu No.4 (the Fantaisie-impromptu), reveal a combustible but splendidly proportioned and controlled rhetoric. Pouishnoff could simply not have managed this at his age and in his declining health. There’s also a 1960 unissued stereo take of Chopin’s Tarantella and a 1962 recording of a perennial Fiorentino encore favourite, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise in the Italian’s transcription.

The programme has a strong central focus in the Rachmaninov concerto and the other material wears the look of appendices; the early competition, the Hamburg Saga sessions of 1958, and finally the two London sessions. Everything is heard in as fine a sound as can be imagined and there are useful biographical notes and photographic reproductions. It’s to Ernest Lumpe that we must turn for thanks for providing the material and to Emilio Pessina for his restorations.

Jonathan Woolf 

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank (November 2022)

Availability: Rhine Classics

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