Piano Recital: Beatrice Rana
Schumann / Liszt
Lukaskirche, Lucerne, 2017-11-24
In January 2016, a pianist friend made an enthusiastic recommendation to watch out for an Italian pianist she knew and met: Beatrice Rana (*1993). An opportunity to meet that artist came a few months later, when Beatrice Rana played in Baden/CH on 2016-04-01—in a recital that I reviewed in my blog. That blog post also has biographical information on the artist, more can also be found on the Italian Wikipedia site. I also did a review in German for Bachtrack on that 2016 recital. Half a year ago I had the opportunity to review another one of her concert appearances, this time with the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Sir Antonio Pappano, in Lugano, on 2017-05-07. Reviews can be found both in my blog, as well as (shorter, in German) on Bachtrack.
This year’s Lucerne Piano Festival gave me another opportunity to hear and see Beatrice Rana in concert, as she gave her Lucerne debut recital at the Lukaskirche. That’s a protestant church and concert venue that I have visited once before, on the occasion of Christoph Croisé’s debut recital on 2015-08-27, with Oxana Shevchenko at the piano. The church was sold out for Beatrice Rana’s recital, on a day that turned out to be the last, golden autumn day in central Switzerland. As in August 2015, the sun was shining onto the stained glass windows in the choir of the church, giving a colorful, atmospheric backdrop for the Steinway D-274 at the front end of the choir.
Schumann: Blumenstück in D♭ major, op.19
Robert Schumann (1810 – 1856) wrote his Blumenstück in D♭ major, op.19, in 1839. It’s a short composition, consisting of a sequence of episodes, with the second one serving as refrain that brackets the piece:
- I. — Leise bewegt (softly moving, 1/4 = 69, A-A-B-B form)
- II. — Ein wenig langsamer (A little slower)
- V. Lebhaft (Vivid)
- Minore II.
Only the two parts of “I.” have repeat signs. With the exception of the final 5 bars (Langsamer — ritardando — Adagio), Schumann gave no tempo annotations other than those shown in the list above. the composer published this piece along with the Arabeske in C major, op.18 that he had written the year before. In a letter, he made a—rather derogatory—remark that these are just “salon pieces for ladies to play”. I suspect that this was just a cover-up statement: the music speaks for itself, expressing Schumann’s love for his intended fiancée, Clara Wiek.
From the description it is clear that this piece was not meant to create a big splash—it gently set the scene for the works to follow. And it allowed the audience to focus on the piano, to delve into the world of piano music and forget about the duties and chores of day-to-day life.
I. Leise bewegt
Beatrice Rana started her recital in a calm, but fluent pace—just what Schumann asked for. The tone was mellow (the score asks for the pedal to be used), the phrasing / dynamics marvelously gentle, the melody stayed singing above the accompanying voices. Equally gentle agogics followed the composer’s phrasing arches, and for the repeat the artist slightly lowered the volume, also in the second part. I loved the poesy, the expression (Schumann’s love!) in the ritardando in the middle of the theme’s second part, and how the pianist took the volume further back at the second pass of the fermata.
II — III — II — IV
I liked Beatrice’s excellent touch control, the balancing of the dynamics between the hands, the fingers & voices: she kept the listener’s focus on the melody, as it moves from the top voice into the texture and back up again. “III” gets livelier, but the interpretation remained full of poetry, especially in “IV” (even though the dynamics are gradually building up), with its very expressive agogics and some more, wonderful fermatas (ritardandi, rather)—beautiful, touching music, evoking dreams, memories —
V — Minore II — II
… but this doesn’t persist, as “V” brings faster movement, almost virtuosic, brings a short excursion up to ff, a short turmoil—though the poetic tone instantly returns. I loved how the pianist held the pace at the end of a phrase, then continued after a little hesitation but keeping the overall flow, keeping the piece under one singe, big arch, up to the Langsamer, where the music retracts into the bass, into silence, warmth, intimacy—wonderful!
Beatrice Rana kept her hands on the keyboard for a few seconds. The thought of applauding didn’t even occur. Then she started with Schumann’s Études symphoniques:
Schumann: Symphonic Etudes, op.13
Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes (Études symphoniques), op.13 first appeared in 1837. It’s a set of 12 studies, partially in the form of variations on a theme:
- Theme – Andante
- Un poco più vivo (Variation 1)
- Andante (Variation 2)
- Allegro marcato(Variation 3)
- Scherzando (Variation 4)
- Agitato (Variation 5)
- Allegro molto (Variation 6)
- Sempre marcatissimo (Variation 7)
- Presto possibile
- Allegro con energia (Variation 8)
- Andante espressivo (Variation 9)
- Allegro brillante (Finale)
The final Etude is based on a Romance in the opera “Der Templer und die Jüdin” by Heinrich Marschner (1795 – 1861). The studies are technically very demanding. Schumann was an excellent pianist, needless to say. Here, he was exploring the possibilities of the instrument, and its ability to produce polyphonic complexity.
The mood, the tone in op.13 differs substantially from the Blumenstück—nevertheless, it’s an excellent fit: a transition from D♭ major (i.e., C♯ major) to C♯ minor. With the few seconds pause, it really felt like a continuation of the preceding piece.
The atmosphere in the theme is restrained, somewhat melancholic, almost sad. The artist gradually built up full, round sonority, music in a mourning tone, lighting up only momentarily, at the first climax. It’s a sort of funeral march. One could almost hear trombones playing, the weeping, the emerging memories…
Etudes I – II
The actual studies aren’t meant to be easy. Etude I appears to start like a simple canon, but the accompaniment quickly turns chordal, spanning wide intervals. And this is just the beginning!
The demands, the challenges grow in “II”: both hands have melodies in the little finger, while the “inner” fingers play a sequence of dense, repeated chords: rhapsodic playing, broad climaxes, suddenly retracting again, building up for the next climax. Beatrice Rana’s performance demonstrated excellent dynamic control, never overpowering the instrument, but exploring its full sonority, building harmonious phrases / arches, while never losing the melody line. She did not appear to be challenged by the virtuosic culmination of repeated chords, the rapid jumps. And she also left room for the (few) lyrical moments.
Etudes III – VII
“III”: Fluent playing, not capricious in the attitude, much more than an artistic demonstration through the broken staccato chords on the right hand.
“IV” was agile in the accents, but with the appropriate power, while retaining light, not “filling” the rests through pedaling, unless Schumann asked for it.
“V” was playful in the first part, while the second half combined sections with diligently applied power, intermittent with coquettish moments.
“VI” is labeled Con bravura. It involves constant, syncopated jumping in the left hand, with quaver cords and a semiquaver inner line in the right hand.
In “VII”, the technical challenges continue to grow—a force-draining study! But also these were mastered with big musical gestures, and with excellent overall dramaturgy.
Etudes VIII – X
“VIII” combines rhapsodic style with (almost) baroque motivic gestures, reminding of a French Overture, with “Romantic / harmonic complications”—a rhythmic challenge, but also difficult in keeping the overall phrasing. The pianist was excellent at harmonious dynamic shaping. Towards the end of the second pass of part 2, she retracted from a ff climax to a ppp ending, like a silent question mark: expectations about the study that followed.
“IX” was a whirlwind of rapid staccato triplets (senza Pedale), with impressive dynamic build-ups, ending in a short wave of octave parallels—and a mystery / ironic p ending.
“X” puts up similar demands, but is rhythmically (and harmonically) different: very impressive performance, brilliant playing!
Etudes XI – XII / Finale
“XI”: from listening to the melody, the music seemed to return to the atmosphere of the Blumenstück, even though the scope of expressions is much wider here, building up to a broad ff climax. And then, there is this constant, restless murmuring (or boiling?) of rapid bass figures in the left hand—very different from the opening piece!
“XII” / Finale: Here, Beatrice Rana let her forces loose (her physical reserves are impressive!), for this heroic, grandiose, big gesture, with Marschner’s catchy (if not even sticky!) theme. The middle part is more lyrical; here the artist appeared to focus on the melody lines, while the punctuated accompaniment appeared a tad blurred, rhythmically? But the atmosphere was heating up towards a climax, then the “Marschner fanfare” returns. Another, (even more) lyrical segment follows, and again, the punctuated rhythms sounded slightly softened. But that could just as well have been deliberately / intentional. The final segment (Marschner again) was grandiose. What else can I say?
Frankly, with Beatrice Rana’s playing, it is hard to find a “hair in the soup” (and the term “soup” is totally inappropriate anyway!!)!
Liszt: Sonata in B minor, S.178
This is the second time that I listened to he Sonata in B minor, S.178 by Franz Liszt (1811 – 1886); for an earlier concert performance see my posting about the recital by Juan Pérez Floristán at ETH Zurich, 2017-02-07. The sonata has the following tempo annotations:
- Lento assai (4/4) —
- Allegro energico (2/2) —
- Grandioso (3/2 — 4/4) —
- Recitativo (3/2 — 2/2) —
- Andante sostenuto (3/4) —
- Quasi Adagio (4/4 — 3/4) —
- Allegro energico (2/2 — 3/2) —
- Cantando espress., senza slentare (4/4) —
- Stretta quasi Presto —
- Presto —
- Prestissimo (4/4 — 3/2) —
- Andante sostenuto (3/4) —
- Allegro moderato (4/4) —
- Lento assai
The beginning of the sonata was calm, static, restrained—as it should be: the Lento assai instantly builds tension towards the “real” beginning. Beatrice Rana emphasized the dissonance created by the descending line (shortly using the sustain pedal, hereby increasing the sonority of the dissonant interval), and in the second instance of the opening motif / theme, this at the same time highlighted the change in harmony.
A relatively fast pace, very “sharp” punctuations, and instantly—even across the fermatas—she creates a musical flow. And it was very, amazingly virtuosic! I would characterize the interpretation as focusing on the big gestures, the dramatic flow, rather than on transparency and ultimate clarity. More on the big phrases and arches than displaying fine details of articulation in motifs, etc.: the drive was key here—and enthralling it was!
A big narrative in the melody, really grandiose—then recitative-like, a dialog between voices, mysterious, restrained atmosphere, memories, maybe, melancholy, serenity, joy—excellent dramaturgy, indeed. It seems that Beatrice has a true sense for theater and drama! I liked the extensive (but not overly theatrical) rubato, the filigree in the short cadenzas—and the return of the big, powerful and virtuosic gestures: sometimes playful, then again exploding into fulminant fireworks. It was a tour de force up to the next Recitativo, surrounded by impressive fff pesante blocks.
Andante sostenuto — Quasi Adagio
Sudden, almost naïve innocence, then truly dolcissimo con intimo sentimento—not exaggerated, but lyrical, singing—and ending in the finest, softest ppp, leading into the initial Lento motifs.
The artist played the subsequent fugato at neck-breaking speed, at a point, where fast details sometimes sounded superficial. I’m not sure whether the tempo prevented careful articulation, or whether the concert grand mechanics don’t allow clear playing at that pace, e.g., in the semiquaver and demisemiquaver triplets in the left hand? Maybe a tad slower would have been preferable here? But it was a dramatic and impressive climax nevertheless, full of action—and extremely virtuosic! And at the same time, at no point it seemed to be virtuosity for mere, sheer show (as impressive as it was).
Cantando espressivamente, senza slentare
The pianist let the double fermata prior to this section follow by a short general rest—it felt like a little eternity after all the action.. And then, we were back into lyrical singing, interspersed with filigreed, interwoven passaework
Stretta quasi Presto — Presto
Beatrice’s performance in this final and ultimate climax was—simply jaw-dropping. Liszt lets this climax run into an extended general rest, then …
Andante sostenuto — Allegro moderato — Lento assai
the sonata ends in a Lied-like epilogue (a prayer, even? or a view into the world beyond?). The short, slightly menacing Allegro moderato episode is not more than a reminiscence of the past, then the sonata quietly dies away—a short echo from the paradise—end.
That was the end of the sonata—and of a really impressive performance! One could see this from the fact that even though Beatrice Rana slowly let her hands sink down to her thighs, it took an amazing 10 – 12 seconds for the frenetic applause to set in. This reminded me of Claudio Abbado (1933 – 2014) who stated that the greatest moments in his concerts happened when at the end the audience remains silent, breathless maybe, for a little eternity. It seems to be the kind of moment we witnessed here.
This was a live concert, not a CD recording, so one could not expect everything to be perfect. But the recital came very close to a recording performance. OK, there was the little tempo excess in the middle of the Liszt sonata, and in that piece—if one listened carefully—one might have heard an occasional, rare missed key. But that was absolutely irrelevant, given the overall achievement in this recital.
The one other quibble I have is not related to the artist: I felt that the Steinway grand sounded a bit hard in the descant, at least in the second half of the Liszt sonata.
Encore I — Liszt: Transcription of Schumann’s “Widmung”, S.566
For her first encore, Beatrice Rana stayed with Franz Liszt. At the same time she returned to Robert Schumann. She chose to play Liszt’s transcription of Robert Schumann’s Lied “Widmung“, the first Lied in the cycle “Myrthen“, op.25. I have given a detailed description of this transcription and the underlying Lied in a review of a private piano recital on 2016-11-13.
First, let me state that I really, really like Schumann’s Lied “Widmung“. To me, it is one of the real highlights of the classic & romantic Lied literature. That judgement is not just based on the music, but equally the underlying, excellent poem by Friedrich Rückert (1788 – 1866).
How was it?
With this, I would have to say that Beatrice Rana (probably) didn’t try interpreting the poetic content of the poem. However, that is a phenomenon that is quite common with pianists who aren’t native German-speaking. In poetry, German is a very complex language with hidden meanings in almost every word or phrase. In order to let the music do justice to the underlying, hidden lyrics, I would claim that it would require the ability to recite that poem such that Germans feel it is “right”. And needless to say that a pianist would need to think and fully understand the text (not just a translation!) when setting his or her interpretation.
The way I experienced Beatrice’s interpretation, I felt that her main focus was on the overall musical flow, the rhapsodic gestures. There were the dramatic arches, true—but without details of the poetic content. She did highlight the Lied melody, though it didn’t truly resemble the original, German Lied. In the virtuosic, central part, she mostly followed an overall dramaturgy with impressive dynamics and phrasing (as usual), sometimes as if it were a genuinely instrumental piece. And sure, as such, it was virtuosic and impressive!
I should also say that after the Liszt Sonata, most listeners in the audience probably weren’t prepared to digest and really appreciate a Lied with subtle, expressive and touching lyrics anyway. So: this was the encore after an exhausting recital (exhausting to the listener as well!), and at this point, a virtuosic, rhapsodic piece was just fine—an excellent fit, actually.
Encore II — Debussy, Pour le piano, L.95: 3. Toccata: Vif
The artist played a second encore: probably one of her favorites, from “Pour le piano“, L.95, by Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918). This is a little suite consisting of three movements, which was part of the recital program on 2016-04-01. As in Lugano on 2017-05-07, she selected the third piece, Toccata (Vif), a fast, virtuosic little showpiece, almost entirely in fast, running semiquavers, with the hands overlapping and crossing each other, requiring agility, excellent jeu perlé / staccato, and the ability to highlight melodies in all the rapid passagework.
In Beatrice Rana’s hands, the Toccata sounded very fast, light and playful: it suits her technical skills really well. She didn’t just run through it, but kept a careful eye on the inner / hidden voices, and never let the articulation become superficial. This was the end of the concert, but not the end of the day. So, choosing this music to close the recital seemed perfectly appropriate. Especially, as some may have attended another recital that day, in the KKL…
Thanks to the pianist for that impressive recital and performance: I thoroughly enjoyed it!