United Kingdom Chopin, Ravel, Stravinsky: Beatrice Rana (piano). St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 25.4.2019. (PCG)
Chopin – 12 Études, Op.25
Ravel – Miroirs
Stravinsky (arr. Agosti) – Firebird Suite, three movements
I suspect that all music lovers suffer from occasional blind spots – styles or composers whom they may possibly admire or even respect, but whom they can never whole-heartedly embrace. I find this myself with Chopin. I recognise his harmonic and structural innovations, enjoy the beautiful melodies that he conjures up, and admire his ability to turn the essentially percussive tones of the piano into lyrical effusions – but I cannot actually find an emotional core with which to engage. I freely admit that this blind spot is my own, not Chopin’s fault in any way; and Beatrice Rana in her performance here of the Op.25 Études came very close indeed to convincing me that I am totally mistaken.
In the first place, she forged from the twelve disparate studies a most persuasive unity of purpose and argument. Each étude followed on its predecessor without a break; sometimes the pauses within movements were longer than those between them. There was a palpable sense of onward progression towards the grandeur of the penultimate ‘winter wind’ No.11 and the rolling peroration of the ‘oceanic’ No.12. The sequence was then interrupted solely by the poised lyricism of No.7, which formed a sort of slow movement in the midst of the torrents of piano figuration. These torrents of notes positively invite the soloist to ‘take a breather’ between each movement. Beatrice Rana’s virtuosity must have been sorely taxed by the sheer stamina that her headlong approach required, but her energy seemed inexhaustible, even though she clearly stood in need of an interval after the barnstorming final movements.
After the interval, the five movements of Ravel’s Miroirs brought a series of complete contrasts. An apotheosis was reached in the juxtaposition of a sparkling delivery of the Alborada del gracioso – the repeated triplets were given with a jaw-dropping rapidity – and a tensely rapt final movement where the valley of bells reduced the audience to an absolute and spellbound silence for a full thirty seconds after the final note was struck. This performance was something very special indeed.
Stravinsky wrote very little music for piano solo. Three Movements from Petrushka, an arrangement, may be played more often than any work specifically written for the instrument. Today we had Guido Agosti’s 1928 transcription for solo piano of the Firebird Suite, presumably made with the composer’s approval. It had been implied that it would be given complete, but we heard only the last three movements: the Infernal Dance, the Berceuse and the Finale. Agosti’s realisation sounded thoroughly idiomatic. The only point at which I would take issue with his work would be in the transition between the final two sections, where the succession of bare chords sounded much less atmospheric than they might have done if the string tremolos at that point had been rendered with more impressionistic shimmerings. But the playing was simply marvellous, and during the Infernal Dance the soloist’s virtuosity was stunning.
The pianist began the first half of the recital right after the audience has ceased to applaud on her entrance. She started the Stravinsky before the applause had died away, so the shock effect of the loud opening chord was lost. There were two unannounced Chopin encores, which I think may have been two preludes which Rana played in February in London.
Shame about the attendance. Beatrice Rana has been rapidly building a reputation in recent years, following her 2011 victory in the Montreal International Competition. Last year she featured at the Classical BRIT Awards as female artist of the year. None of that seems to have impressed Cardiff audiences in the slightest; huge swathes of seating in St David’s Hall were devoid of listeners.
This concert was part of Rana’s worldwide tour. Her February appearance at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall has already been the subject of Colin Clarke’s enthusiastic review for this site (click here). The programme seems to have remained unchanged from venue to venue, although for Oxford and Edinburgh later this year in July and August she will substitute Stravinsky’s three movements from Petrushka for those from The Firebird. Clarke refers to a programme note by the pianist herself, provided for audiences on London’s Southbank. Here we received generic notes, which were fine for the Chopin and Ravel but gave no information about Agosti’s work in the transcription of The Firebird. They briefly described the plot of the ballet but did not even identify which sections of the score we were hearing.
Paul Corfield Godfrey