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Sergio Fiorentino Edition VI - The Early Recordings

Release Date: 03/11/2008 
Label:  Apr (Appian) Catalog #: 5586   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sergio Fiorentino
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Carnaval. Kinderszenen. Arabeske. Symphonic Etudes Sergio Fiorentino (pn) APR 5586 (76:12)

First, the basics: Sergio Fiorentino was born in 1927, and studied at the San Pietro a Majella Conservatory in Naples. His Carnegie Hall debut in 1953 was followed by a tour that nearly ended in disaster during a plane crash. Fiorentino began concertizing again after a few years, and made a number of recordings, mostly for minor labels, during the 1950s and 1960s. The recording conditions were often a Read more testament to the pianist’s extraordinary sang-froid : the three Schumann items on this album, for example, were committed to disc over only two days, August 9 and 10, 1965.

In respect to concert tours, Fiorentino was the polar opposite to Shura Cherkassky. Where the latter enjoyed the itinerant life and hotel rooms, Fiorentino preferred the quieter career of teaching, which he took up once again in exclusion to nearly all else. There were a few rare appearances both before the public and for Italian RAI, but it really wasn’t until his retirement in 1993 that the pianist returned for good to the public stage. Until his untimely death in 1998, he was much in demand, both on the concert platform and (thanks to APR) in the recording studio.

As for Fiorentino’s Schumann, it is something to savor. Carnaval is characterized by enormous verve. This isn’t a matter of fast tempos, though Fiorentino provides those on numerous occasions, to great effect. (Yet he always gives an impression of having the technique to push much further than he does.) Rather, this music is performed as though borne along on a tide of great enthusiasm, with angular accents, sharp attacks, and an unusually wide dynamic range. Each piece defines and separates itself out for attention. “Papillons” is marked prestissimo and played that way, for a change, if not as lightly as one might have wished. “Pantalon et Columbine” fall over themselves in excitable argument, and as a bonus the imitative points in the second section are uncommonly clear. The broad and flexibly phrased “Chopin” isn’t agitated at all, despite the tempo marking, but forms a strategic resting point in a high-spirited reading. Some of that carries across to the Arabeske , a lovingly reflective but playful version whose rubato is a miracle of naturalness.

The Symphonic Etudes create an impression of weightier matters under consideration, though Fiorentino assiduously follows many of the tempo markings of the etudes (such as numbers 1, 4, 5) thus emphasizing power and energy. There is an almost Mendelssohnian quality at times to the left hand in his quicksilver fifth etude, while the French overture of the eighth etude never loses momentum in a search for monumentality. The inner voices of the tenth etude are distinct, despite the fury of the reading. The finale loses some of the variety I’ve heard elsewhere, notably from Myra Hess, but gains a propulsive, unified sense of purpose that recalls the celebratory finales of the composer’s symphonies.

With its combination of solemnity and whimsy, Fiorentino’s Kinderszenen falls somewhere between the two other works. The rhythm of “Kuriose Geschichte” skips along with unusual snap, while “Bittendes Kind” is treated with a mixture of delicacy and humor. (The brief, ascending runs that function as a bridge are played in a crescendo, suddenly vanishing as the main theme returns.) “Fast zu ernst” is quite serious and meditative here, though the abrupt shifts of mood and tempo in the following “Fürchtenmachen” are highly amusing. Great attention to color and phrasing highlight both “Kind im Einschlummern,” and “Der Dichter spricht,” the latter in particular showing a Schnabel-like gift for allowing a slow piece to reveal, in its own time, its own natural eloquence.

The lack of studio time to remake and “prettify” these selections is occasionally evident. “Paganini,” for example, has a few barely flicked and missed notes, as does the brief “Pause” leading up to the concluding March in Carnaval . Elsewhere, an occasional figure in the bass is muddied, or a repeated phrase tossed off once without being properly balanced. The silver lining to all this is that we have spontaneous readings in which each episodic selection contributes to the overall effect. Imperfections are relatively few, and the electricity such that it is as though one were witness to a live recital.

The engineering is a bit distant and muffled in the treble, but otherwise reasonably balanced. Good notes by Harriet Smith are provided. On balance, I would definitely suggest this disc as among the first to attract new listeners to Fiorentino’s art. There’s subtlety involved, but also a great deal of high spirits and fireworks not always present in the intensely musical later recordings. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Carnaval, Op. 9 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sergio Fiorentino (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833-1835; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1965 
Kinderszenen, Op. 15 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sergio Fiorentino (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1965 
Arabeske for Piano in C major, Op. 18 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sergio Fiorentino (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1838; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1965 
Symphonic Etudes for Piano, Op. 13 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Sergio Fiorentino (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837/1852; Germany 
Date of Recording: 08/1965 
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1837).
Composition revised: Germany (1852). 

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