Classical Music Concert: Beatrice Rana — A Beguiling Pianist

By Susan Miron

Pianist Beatrice Rana has a particular talent for building a line in ways that are both exactingly dynamic and robustly emotional.

Italian piano virtuoso Beatrice Rana at Jordan Hall. Photo: Susan Miron

The young Italian piano virtuoso Beatrice Rana has been to Boston twice before — in 2018 as part of the Celebrity Series debut series at Longy’s Pickman Hall and in 2021 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Inexplicably, I hadn’t heard of Rana before her Celebrity Series of Boston concert last Friday night at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, so to prepare myself I listened to her 2019 recording of Ravel and Stravinsky. I was held spellbound, at times even left agog. So I was anxious to discover if this extraordinary recording was a one-off. Would Rana turn out to be an ordinary mortal, yet another pianist with mind-boggling technique? I needn’t have worried. From the first measures of Bach’s French Suite #2 in C minor (BWV 815) I was won over. (Arts Fuse review of Rana’s album dedicated to piano concertos by Clara and Robert Schumann.)

I am aware that, in these (politically correct) times, critics should never mention what an artist wears onstage. However, I can’t help myself in this case. Rana strode to the piano in a drop-dead shimmering black and silver sparkly gown. I would wager that no runway model this season looked more alluring. (If her playing hadn’t been so fabulous, the pianist would have deserved an extra standing ovation for her poise and elegant demeanor). She had the audience’s rapt attention within a few measures of the Bach, and our fascination remained through Debussy and then Beethoven. Her encores were startling. By then, the audience was weak-kneed, putty in Rana’s fingers. My feeling is that we all would have sat happily through the whole recital again, right then and there.

My goodness, can this pianist play! Early on she entered two competitions, winning the Silver Medal and the Audience Award at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. In 2011, at age 18, she won the Grand Prize and two special prizes at the Montreal International Competition.

It was no surprise that Rana’s Bach was so sensitively played. Her 2017 recording of the Goldberg Variations was praised by critics. In interviews, she has discussed her affinity and deep love for Bach. The first movement (yes, she used the pedal, but very deftly) Allemande was treated with quiet introspection, while the second movement, Courante, went by thrillingly fast. The third movement, Sarabande, was introspective once again, radiating an understated yet seductive beauty. Her gentle touch, until the Gigue’s boisterous last moment, felt just right. I imagine her performance would have held Bach’s interest.

For me, the highlight of this recital was Debussy’s “Pour le Piano,” a suite in three movements usually associated with Baroque dances (Prélude, Sarabande, Toccata) 0f two centuries before. The Prélude — with its whole-tone scales — contains glissandos that Rana played so thrillingly I had goosebumps. The Sarabande, which I have always liked (playing) on the harp, is marked “Avec un élegance grave et lente.” The piece calls for a grave and slow elegance. In Rana’s hands (and pedaling) it was rather spooky, weirdly quiet and strangely alluring, full of thrilling dynamics that shook and simmered with an otherworldly beauty (all three movements could have served as master classes in controlling dynamics). The Toccata was a study in nonchalant virtuosity. I do hope she records this suite; the audience could barely stop applauding.

After intermission, Rana took on Beethoven’s notoriously long and difficult Sonata No. 29 in B-flat Major, Opus, 106. Nicknamed the “Hammerklavier,” it is one of Beethoven’s monumental final five sonatas. The piece’s influence was enormous, inspiring young Brahms and Mendelssohn. It was premiered by the composer and great virtuoso Liszt in 1836, and went on to profoundly influence Berlioz. Rana began her rendition with a demonic burst of energy that was then interwoven with tenderness, drama, and magic. The long third movement’s dirge-like opening was given a Chopinesque feel — it was quite moving. Mercurial mood changes characterized the last movement. Rana has a particular talent for building a line in ways that are both exactingly dynamic and robustly emotional. This was my first live “Hammerklavier.” Had I not known it from recordings, Rana’s performance alone would have made me fall in love with this piece.

It is not, conventionally, a composition that raises an expectation of an encore. The recital had been a study in encore-worthy musicality, but most mortals would have been exhausted at this point. Amazingly, Rana treated us to TWO encores, a fetching arrangement by Leopold Godowsky of Saint-Saëns’s “The Swan” and Debussy’s “Étude pour les huit doigts.” An ecstatic audience was left drunk with delight.

Susan Miron, a harpist, has been a book reviewer for over 30 years for a large variety of literary publications and newspapers. Her fields of expertise were East and Central European, Irish, and Israeli literature. Susan covers classical music for the Arts Fuse and the Boston Musical Intelligencer.

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