Beatrice Rana in Istanbul: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Argerich

TurkeyTurkey  Bach, Schuman, Prokofiev:  Beatrice Rana (piano), Istanbul Recitals at ‘the Seed’, Istanbul 15.02.14 (AM)

Bach: Keyboard Partita No. 1 in B flat major, BWV 825
Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13
Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 6, Op. 82


2013 Van Cliburn Competition silver medalist Beatrice Rana’s take on the evening’s opener, Bach’s Partita No. 1 BWV 825, was deceptive in demonstrating her pianistic abilities: her Prelude was heavy with over-ornamentation while her striking of the hammers was harsh (a stylistic choice which I don’t generally object to, given that many of my favorite Bach players, Weissenberg, Richter, et al. play him that way), up until the Sarabande and the ensuing Minuets during which she completely changed her approach towards the music and kept her soft pedal pressed most of the time, letting only a subdued Bach come through. This abrupt reversal of technique or even perhaps musicianship made me think of her age and the possibility of a slight ingenuousness towards music. It wasn’t a disappointing performance –not at all, but it seemed to lack a certain comprehensive quality which usually develops with age and experience. Ms. Rana, only twenty years of age, obviously had ample technique and ability to drive multiple musical lines without breaking a sweat. Her technical skills were abundantly present in the devilish Gigue’s intricate finger work as she played the section without the help of the pedal, crossing hands and managing to draw out just the right amount of dynamics from her instrument so that the gated melody remained perfectly discernable while the staccato ricochets served their full purpose as not merely accents but as pillars of the music. In short, the pianist’s Bach ended up being exactly what you would expect to hear from a young and talented pianist: resting comfortably at equal distances from both the spectacular and the ordinary. The B flat partita is hardly a gauge for musical temperament of course, as it is too narrow in its reach for disposition in the performer and therefore switching gears between movements may be considered a viable way to buoy its expressiveness, an effort that generally falls flat because Bach’s exploration here, and in the rest of his partitas, is towards simplicity, homogeneity and interchangeability in both the melody and the harmony.

A much more revealing piece of music for a performer’s musicality is Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes which came next. And I must say right from the start that Beatrice Rana’s execution of Schumann’s hugely ambitious and monstrously difficult piece was simply jaw-dropping. Forget the notions about age, naiveté, and the relative inexperience that I was wrongly planted during her Bach: Ms. Rana gave the audience a fascinating reading that was full of moments exhibiting Schumann’s dual music personas for which roles the performer folded herself into perfectly. Building upon Baron von Fricken’s simple melody, Schumann’s set of etudes and variations –both highly unorthodox, demand so much from the performer that the composer felt he had to cut five of the original movements. Even in its reduced form, the pianist is expected to shape-shift, as s/he has to in most of Schumann’s piano music, frequently. What makes matters worse here is that the music is also a set of etudes and they are constructed to deal with technical difficulties. As in Chopin’s similar set of Op. 10, musicality and precision have to be equally prominent. I had heard of reviews comparing Beatrice Rana to young Argerich, and I am happy to report that there were moments in her Schumann, particularly in the faster movements, where her frugal use of shoulder muscles and eliciting a huge sound from the instrument despite this, revoked images of the Argentinian master. Ms. Rana shone throughout the piece –whether it be in the drama of the capricious Sixth or the clarity of the Toccata-like eighth. Her high-octane performance gave way to a genuinely thespian eleventh variation, culminating in a brilliant finale. It was one of the most successful renditions of the work I have ever heard, live or recorded.

Then came Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata, Op. 82. The prelude to his trilogy of War Sonatas, the sixth is the most dynamic and vivid of them all. The first movement is particularly tricky, since the music dollops simultaneously in a major and minor key in each hand before letting go of tonality as it moves forward. Beatrice Rana, seemingly not exhausted by Schumann’s numerous traps, proceeded to play this movement with lightning-fast finger work while articulating the despair with clever use of pedals and her extraordinarily well-developed phrasing. It is normally very hard to discern the waltz rhythm in Prokofiev’s conception of the style. Like many of Chopin’s mazurkas, the beat is only vaguely imperceptible, but it’s there. Not only did Ms. Rana present an elegant and dainty dance, she also put out a storming middle section realizing the full effect of the score and, possibly, the composer’s intentions. In the final movement of the piece, the pianist emphasized the percussive quality of the music with razor sharp and piercing left hand hits. As the music gradually whirled into a heap of dissonances, off-beat chord incursions, and satirical melodies, Beatrice Rana stood on top of the wild horse that is the Vivace, riding it with absolute control sprinkled with touches of spontaneity, and she came out as a champion.

 Alain Matalon