Beatrice Rana – Scriabin, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Debussy and Liszt

Fantasie in B-minor, Op. 28
Cipressi, Op. 17
Préludes Book 2 No. 7 – La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune
Préludes Book 1 No. 7 – Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest
L’isle joyeuse
Piano Sonata in B-minor, S.178

Beatrice Rana (piano)

Reviewed by: Peter Reed

Reviewed: 25 October, 2023
Venue: Barbican, London

It is quite clear why the 30-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana has attracted such fasciation and enthusiasm. In London for her debut Barbican solo recital, she has a magnetic, unmannered stage presence that radiates authority, engagement, and charm. She also has a formidable technique and a fierce, effortlessly creative intelligence. And if it was a pity that her programme didn’t include Chopin – her Warner recording of the Etudes Op. 25 is exceptional – she was at her persuasive best in the B-minor Fantasie by Scriabin, a composer who often overshares strenuous chromaticism and an overheated pan-emotionalism. Rana was certainly a commanding presence in all the extravagances of dynamics and tumescent climaxes, at times – and without banging – producing a colossal sound underpinned by a muscular left hand that made light of all the hefty octave passages. The piano roared, but it was the retreats into gentler moments where Rana made sense of Scriabin’s striving hyperbole.

The Italian-Jewish Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote Cipressi in 1920, sometime before he fled Europe for the USA and Hollywood in 1938. It is full of orchestral potential and evokes those gloomy funereal symbols (familiar from Van Gogh’s paintings), which Rana conveyed with solemn grandeur, shaping its languid melodic tag through many changes of colour and context; tactfully letting the music speak for itself. Her Debussy set followed without a break, its impressionist imagery showing off her intensely connective imagination, with a subtle sense of advance and retreat balanced by a finely shadowed sense of colour. In La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, eddies of wind delivered a full-on storm; a vividly played Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest, topped by an unforgettable performance of  L’isle joyeuse, a carefree sense of anticipation achieved a transcendent destination with Rana in complete command of the music’s visionary quality.

Lastly, the Liszt Sonata was unfurled with visceral physicality and a superb grasp of its character and form. Rana’s pedalling was generous and scrupulously clean, shaping the big paragraphs to express the music’s lofty nobility and ambition. The fugue was stupendously virtuosic, with the illusion of time suspended in the mysterious quieter episodes much appreciated. It was one of those special performances where an artist completely takes over the audience – we were spellbound. There were two encores, Scriabin’s Etude Op. 2 No. 1 and an incandescent display of finger-wriggling in Debussy’s Pour les huit doigts.

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