Beatrice Rana was aged twenty when she took the Silver Medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. She has been signed up by Warner Classics and this Russian Piano Concerto coupling is the first release. Rana could not wish for finer partners than the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano.
Surprisingly, given its horn-led heroics, the Tchaikovsky is placed second. Nevertheless, that is where I started. The famous opening is stirring and spacious, albeit with the proviso that the piano is balanced a little too closely and one would like to hear more of the strings, but at least Rana doesn’t pulverise her part, using instead what might be termed ‘natural force’, and there is also a delicacy that bodes well for an oft-played Concerto that tends to be bullied along and hit below the belt. No such worries here, for Rana has no need for shock tactics, relying instead on innate musicianship to refresh music that can be taken for granted or even made contemptuous. The first movement’s fast sections really dance, and the slower ones are poetic; well-judged tempos and tempo relationships ensure wholeness and one also appreciates Rana’s discriminating touch, her eloquence and music-serving virtuosity, fastidiously accompanied.
Throughout there are numerous individual touches from Rana; the first-movement cadenza is richly expressed, as well as slightly whimsical, and without the sagging it can succumb to; the flute-playing opening the (here flowing) second movement is quite lovely and the middle section is bubbly and quicksilver; and the Finale, not rushed (although Rana has the fleetest of fingers when required), is built with surety to a grandstand finish and a sonorous final chord.
The Prokofiev, arguably his greatest Piano Concerto (if not the most popular) of his five, finds Rana especially insightful and persuasive, and I was less troubled here by the too-forward piano. The very opening is gently lyrical against slithery strings; all very deceptive for the music is danger incarnate, suddenly angular and with sprites introduced, the culmination of which is a huge and mesmerising cadenza that piles on the pressure (increasingly dissonant and manic) until no more seems possible; Rana is its equal, and the orchestra’s return acts as a thrilling liberation.
The pithy Scherzo that follows is nimble and mercurial, unflappable over its course ... then straight into the macabre and gawky ‘Intermezzo’, first-cousin to Mussorgsky’s ‘Gnomus’. The Finale, on a scale to match the first movement, pulsates with life (and also grateful dynamics), the folksong episode, which can seem diversionary, being beautifully integrated into the scheme of things. From there, via a ‘false’ ending and a clandestine cadenza, the Concerto hurtles to a scintillating conclusion, Rana, Pappano and the Santa Cecilia musicians in close and meaningful rapport.
In short, this is an impressive release, as imposing and illuminating a calling-card as Beatrice Rana could have hoped for. A star is born!