Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

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Following her superb recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2017, leading classical music magazine Gramophone named Beatrice Rana Young Artist of the Year, noting:

“Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It’s a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you’ve got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.”

Two years later her latest recording, a dazzling account of music by Ravel and Stravinsky, further affirms Rana as one of the most extraordinary artists of our time. No difficulty in selecting my Recording of the Month

The Programme

For this new disc, Rana has selected a scintillating programme of music associated with Paris at the turn of the last century, and in most cases with connections to dance.

Explaining the title, Rana notes that the album was,

“…conceived as a mirror that reflects an age of renewal and crisis”.

The running order reveals a deft sense of musical shape and symmetry, juxtaposing the two composers’ works as follows:

  • Ravel: Miroirs
  • Stravinsky: Three pieces from The Firebird (transcribed, Guido Agosti)
  • Stravinsky: Three Movements from Petrushka (transcribed, Stravinsky)
  • Ravel: La Valse (transcribed, Ravel)

Three of these pieces were originally conceived for large orchestra; Miroirs meanwhile is a piano solo that was in part later orchestrated. In all cases, they are scores of extraordinary colour and imagination.

The Performances

Ravel’s Miroirs is a suite of five pieces:

  • Noctuelles
  • Oiseaux tristes
  • Une barque sur l’océan
  • Alborada del gracioso
  • La Vallée des cloches

These pieces are surely among the composer’s most obviously impressionistic, and Rana apparently revels in the opportunity to explore the delicate range of colours in Ravel’s writing, each magnificent tone picture delivered with a vibrancy rarely heard elsewhere.

From the exquisite touch and superb dynamic control of her Noctuelles and Une barque to the sonorous voicing and superbly judged pedalling in La Vallée, Rana’s performance immediately establishes itself as a possible benchmark for Ravel’s masterpiece.

With the Danse infernale from The Firebird we enter different sonic and pianistic territory; here Rana proves her mettle in music that requires a more muscular approach. But the red-hot opening is brilliantly matched by a delicious lyricism where later called for, resulting in an interpretation that is as superbly paced as it is bedazzling.

Rana writes in her CD notes,

“Agosti’s transcription of L’Oiseau de feu is a bit like speaking Stravinsky’s language with an Italian accent. There are differences between Stravinsky’s approach and that of Agosti, who wrote his arrangement in 1928. Agosti’s attitude to the keyboard was sensual and tangible, leaving plenty of leeway for the pianist…”

Rana further explores this leeway in the Berceuse and Finale which follow, the former providing yet new colours with its wash of pedal and clarity of voicing, while the latter offers some of the most remarkable pianism you will hear this year.

While Agosti’s transcriptions from The Firebird remain too infrequent visitors to the concert hall and recoding studio, Stravinsky’s own transcriptions of Three Movements from Petrushka have become staples of competition and recital repertoire, potentially rendering them over-exposed and exposing the performer to unwanted comparison.

Received wisdom might suggest that Pollini’s recording is the one to beat, and in my opinion beat it she does. For my money, Rana’s interpretation tells a more humane narrative, digging deeper into the characterisations in the music. The imbedded Russian melodic tone is especially gorgeous in these performances, while La Semaine grasse has scarcely before been unveiled with such luminosity.

And it’s these shimmering textures that bring us inexorably back to Ravel, whose La Valse completes the recital. Here is another transcription which is gaining more traction with pianists and audiences, and one recent recording which sticks in my mind is that of Catherine Gordeladze from her disc Dance Fantasies, reviewed here.

One of the most impressive attributes of Gordeladze’s reading is her ability to convey the insouciant charm and wayward pulse of the Viennese Waltz even as Ravel systematically dismembers it.

Rana’s take on the waltz rhythm is less overtly Viennese, but from the menacing clarity of the opening bars it is clear that hers is the more compelling drama. Here, I can but marvel at the superlative mastery of colour and pianism.

The Recording

Many will initially listen on the commercial streaming services, but as always I also recommend buying the CD, which comes from Warner Classics dressed in suitably sumptuous packaging:

photography: Simon Fowler
wardrobe: Atelier Emé

The sleeve opens to reveal both the disc and a 12-page colour booklet; this includes plenty of artist photos along with the expected track listing, recording details, and a two-page programme note by the performer.

Though dripping with insight, this essay seems a little cobbled together, and sure enough it proves to be a selection of quotes lifted from an interview that Rana gave to Leonetta Bentivoglio. The original Italian is followed by translations in English, French and German.

As for the recording itself, engineer Jørn Pedersen has achieved the near impossible here; the piano (which, along with it’s tuner/technician, isn’t credited) sounds fabulous, every detail of Rana’s playing crystal clear, the voicing immaculate, dynamic range and the overall sound spacious.

To Conclude…

Around this time last year I reviewed Yuja Wang’s Berlin Recital (you can read the review here), concluding that it was “without doubt the most stunning classical piano recording I’ve heard in 2018.” Many months later that recording went on to win the coveted Gramophone Award for Instrumental Album of the Year.

2019 has again saved its best until last: Beatrice Rana’s genuinely spectacular new album deserves every bit as much praise and success, and I have no hesitation in naming it as, for me, the most stunning classical piano release of the year.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.