“Beatrice Rana: Silver Medalist” = SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit; BARTOK: Out of Doors – Beatrice Rana, p. – Harmonia mundi

by | Dec 3, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

Beatrice Rana: Silver Medalist = SCHUMANN: Symphonic Etudes, Op. 13; RAVEL: Gaspard de la Nuit; BARTOK: Out of Doors, Sz. 81 – Beatrice Rana, piano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907606, 62:13 (11-12-13) ****:

Recipient of both the Silver Medal and the Audience Award at the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Beatrice Rana studied with Benedetto Lupo and Arie Vardi.
Ms. Rana reveals a decided penchant for color in her traversals of Schumann, Ravel and Bartok, opening this assemblage of performances (24 May-9 June 2013) from Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas with Schumann’s 1837 Symphonic Etudes, rife with the composer’s alternations of character in their “orchestral” approximation of the keyboard’s capacity to make big sonorities.

I find it curious that Rana performs Schumann’s richly textured Etudes “straight,” meaning that she does not incorporate any of the so-called “posthumous” etudes into her survey. Her felicity in the studies, however, by no means suffers the elision of these after-thoughts. Rana’s aristocratic poise in Variation VIII, for instance – the most obvious imitation of a slow Bach counterpoint – conveys a taut line and flexible singing voice. The ensuing Presto possible bears Schumann’s typical – as in his G Minor Sonata – demand that the performer find reserves of fast tempo beyond the expected order of ability. Another flurry of octave power in Variation X leads to the mysterious plaint of Etude XI: Con espessione, in which the softer side of Schumann’s personality, the reflective Eusebius, waxes poetic. For her concluding Allegro brillante conclusion, Rana takes the assertive guise of Florestan, sparkling in the various syncopes that mark the Variation’s progression. Underlying the thematic unity of the fluttering and cascading figures lies that maerchen, or fairy-tale march, against the Philistine that defines Schumann’s mission to battle cultural and personal complacency. Nothing self-satisfied I the audience cheers that follow the Schumann.

The piano fantasies based on poems of Aloysius Bertrand, Ravel’s 1908 Gaspard de la Nuit, raising from the first measures the Liszt-based capacity for the piano to imitate water in Ondine. Only the epithet “delicious” describes Rana’s tonal palette in this evocation of a water-sprite whose seductive efforts to lure us into her personal tarn prove most compelling. Along with a glittering surface in the treble, Rana’s bass tones evoke a world of slightly ghoulish possibility. Le Gibet, dedicated to Jean Marnold, attempts infinite degrees of nuance within a deliberately confined tonal space. Rana has the rotting corpse dissolve in slow gradations of sunlight (in ostinato B-flats), the clock’s ticking off the various destructions of the corpse by time and natural predation.

The sweetness of the melodic progression merely intensifies what Conrad termed “the fascination of the abomination.” Vlado Perlmuter, a noted performer of Ravel’s keyboard works, liked to claim his Scarbo the Dwarf opened with a bassoon, proceeded to a drum, and then incorporated brass band, castanets, nasal trumpets, percussion, and xylophone into the symphonic mix. Rana has her own arsenal of colors, mostly Iberian in character, at her large, double-octave disposal, and her cross-rhythms simmer with nervous, grotesque vitality. Bertrand’s description of Scarbo, “his face as pale as molten drippings,” could have been lifted directly from the last page of Poe’s chronicle of “M. Valdemar.”  All the combined horror and beauty of Ravel’s tone-painting glistens in Rana’s uncanny moonlight, whose harmonic color points so immediately to Bartok.

Any hint that the piano occupies the “stringed instrument” category Bartok casts out immediately in his “With Drums and Pipes” (Pesante) opening of his 1926 Out of Doors Suite. Percussively folkish, the music hammers a kind of artistic credo upon our imaginations. While the ensuing Barcarolla might nod to Venetian gondoliers and Chopin, the music becomes agitated and fragmentary, with quick agogic adjustments typical of the Magyar spirit. The moderato movement Musettes has Rana’s imitating bagpipes sonorities that ramble in and out of tune. She finds an obsessive motion in the bagpipes close in spirit to Ravel’s Scarbo. “The Night’s Music” (Lento) establishes a typical conceit for Bartok slow movements of natural landscapes, while the title invokes Lugosi’s “children of the night” in his sweetly lulling Dracula persona. A soft cembalom sonority pervades Rana’s tempered realization. The final movement, The Chase, seems a throwback to Paganini’s caprice and Liszt’s concert etude, vehement, dissonant, and suddenly explosive, a real tour de force for Rana’s volatile bravura. When Rana’s wild gallop ends, brusquely, the Fort Worth audience’s pent-up appreciation cuts loose with vigor.

—Gary Lemco


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