When you like a composition, chances are you’ll listen to a recording by a new unfamiliar artist whether or not you’ve heard any fanfare or PR. And so, when I saw that Beatrice Rana’s debut recording with ATMA Classical was mostly devoted to Frédéric Chopin’s twenty-four Préludes Op 28, I wanted to hear.
Is it one work or twenty-four? Although some of these preludes get performed independently, the cycle works wonderfully as a unit. I can’t help thinking that our assumptions need to be flexible to recognize changing attitudes and approaches.
- On the one hand, other contemporary media such as opera or symphonies can furnish hints about how such a work was received and understood in its time. While today we perform the cycle in a whirlwind of passion without any intervening applause– comparable to the relatively taut audiences for symphonies and operas–there was a time when arias and symphonic movements earned, not just applause, but multiple encores. I recall reading that the premiere of Berlioz’s Harolde en Italie saw both inner movements encored, one being performed a third time (although I can’t recall which). And so it shouldn’t surprise us that a few of these little jewels are sometimes removed from their exquisite setting (the complete cycle of twenty-four) to be played discreetly on their own.
- On the other hand recordings –particularly CDs, which are so much more flexible than LPs—encourage an entirely different relationship to text, allowing us to get to know them better than was possible in times when our only option was live performance. Mahler only came into his own, only truly appreciated, after listeners were able to listen and re-listen to his mammoth works in the comfort of their living room.
Yes you can have it both ways. The work (or works if you prefer) seems poised between traditions. While paying homage to previous masters, particularly JS Bach, the cumulative effect is powerful indeed.
Who is Beatrice Rana? ATMA’s site tells us
In June 2011, Beatrice Rana, then 18, became the one of the youngest winner of a first prize at the Montreal International Music Competition. As well, she won each of that year’s special prizes. She is, said Le Devoir, “not only a pianist but, above all, an artist.
In 2012-2013, Beatrice made her debut with several orchestras, including the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia, the Südwestdeutsche Orchester, and the Aarus Symfonieorkester in Denmark. She also performed as a guest artist with the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, the symphony orchestras of Edmonton, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg, the Kuala Lumpur Philharmonic Orchestra, the Violons du Roy, and the Orchestre Métropolitain with Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
Though only 19 years old, Beatrice has performed in major concert series including the Tonhalle de Zurich, Montreal’s Pro Musica, the Società dei Concerti de Milan, and the Vancouver Recital Society, and at many festivals, including the Festival Berlioz de la Côte Saint-André, the La Roque d’Anthéron International Piano Festival, the Festival Radio-France de Montpellier, the Folle Journée de Nantes, the Flâneries de Reims, the Festival Busoni de Bolzano, and the Festival de Lanaudière in Quebec.
Beatrice has won numerous prizes at competitions such as the Muzio Clementi Competition, the Concours International de San Marino, and the Bang & Olufsen pianoRAMA Competition. She began studying piano when she was 4, and became a student of Benedetto Lupo at the Conservatoire Nino Rota, from wich she graduated at the precocious age of 16. She now studies in Hanover with Arie Vardi.
Rana offers a conservative reading, and I mean this in a good way. Many of the preludes include passages that can be ambiguous when played quickly, when interpretive liberties with accents & emphases cause us to lose a sense of the work’s meter and so to change the shape of the piece. I believe that if you start it with a particular shape, while you may bring out voices in places, play with it briefly, that the preludes should be essentially static from beginning to end. In this sense, I prefer a straight-forward and conservative reading, whatever its pace. This is what I believe we find in recordings by the great Chopin interpreters, such as Rubenstein, Arrau, Ohlsson and Zimerman. I think of Chopin as a neo-classicist, not unlike Mozart & Debussy and therefore want transparency & a respect for structure in the execution, especially simple compositions such as these.
Rana is sometimes reticent, playing a prelude quietly, but each one is self-consistent, shaped with eloquence and nobility. Before too long I relaxed into the performance, put at ease by her easy mastery of the requirements of these short pieces.
The CD also includes two other Chopin Préludes and the op 18 sonata of Scriabin. The French spelling of this Russian composer’s name appears on the CD—a nod to the PQ Government language laws?—so be aware of this if you google it. The easy way is simply to look for ATMA and Chopin and Rana.
The Scriabin shows us more of Rana’s fluidity, particularly with evenly shaped phrases of perpetual motion constructions. As such it’s a good match to the Chopin Op 28, albeit somewhat more angular & chromatic.
Rana was still in her teens when the recording was made, not that you could tell from her excellent playing. Another star is born.