Italy Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Strauss. Orchestra Nazionale dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia. Andrés Orozco-Estrada (conductor) Beatrice Rana (piano) Sala Santa Cecilia, Parco della Musica, Rome. 04.01.2015 (JB)
What happens when a young woman of twenty, with supremely defined feminine sensibilities, takes on board the most masculine of piano concertos? It sounds like a recipe for disaster. But not when the young woman is Beatrice Rana. This is as muscular a performance as I have ever heard of the Tchaikovsky first concerto. Yet the lady manages too, at the same time, to be unfailingly faithful to her gloriously natural feminine instincts. She is never sentimental, even in the composer’s most romantic passages. From start to finish, drawing on a vast reservoir of pianist colours, she never for a moment relaxes her natural dignity. The tone is sometimes steely. But never harsh. Always thoroughly in charge of her performance. At the same time, never forced. Her fortes can be shattering, but they are always beautiful. And a beautiful forte is the hardest thing to get out of a piano. Rana commands Tchaikovsky rather than the other way on. I would normally object to this. But her musicianship is such that I’m sure Tchaikovsky himself would approve of her being in charge. Such impeccable professionalism is not normally heard in twenty-year-olds.
I first heard Beatrice as a fifteen-year-old at a Virsaladze Masterclass. I immediately recognised something special, though not yet fully formed. So did Madame Virsaladze. Beatrice then went on to win the Toronto Competition (she was 18) which gave her a tour of North America. Then followed this up with the second audience prize at the Van Cliburn Competition. All this shot her up into the stars of the young pianists’ firmament. Nor is there any sign of her resting on her laurels. The gods continue to urge her upwards. How thrilling to hear such a sublime young artist. And one with her pianistic house in such immaculate order.
The other pleasure of the evening was the thirty-seven year old Colombian conductor, Andrés Orozco-Estrada, who was making his debut with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra. (He is programmed for a second visit in April for the Schubert first symphony and the Mozart Requiem.) His conducting throughout the evening had a refreshing vitality. The contrapuntal lines in the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture were a huge pleasure; how often have we heard them carelessly brushed to one side? This immediately established his admirable rapport with the players. All the Berlioz orchestration details were a joy.
The thicker density of the orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-fantasia, found him on less secure ground though again, his painstaking attention to detail meant the music spoke clearly.
In the Rosenkavalier Suite, Richard Strauss treads a fine line between sophistication with lots of self-parody and exuberance. It’s all too easy to fall off that line into vulgarity and there were moments when Maestro Orozco-Estrada fell into this trap. Still, I can forgive all: for he and the orchestra sounded as they were enjoying themselves. Curious how enjoyment always conveys itself to an audience, no? I’m certainly looking forward to his return April visit.