Last year Beatrice Rana, on the heels of her silver medal at the Van Cliburn Competition, gave her Washington-area debut at Wolf Trap. The Italian pianist was back on Saturday afternoon for a concert at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, presented on the Hayes Piano Series by Washington Performing Arts. Her startling technique remains among the most faultless of young pianists today, and it was displayed, in this recital, in some dazzling repertoire.
Rana took some of the movements of Bach’s first partita (B-flat major, BWV 825) with rhythmic freedom: slowing down sections of the Praeludium, for example, to accommodate her purring trills. She was more strictly metered in the Allemande and Courante, taken very fast and with not a note out of place, even with some florid embellishments added. The Sarabande was restrained and graceful; Rana kept the music simple rather than weighing it down, and took the repeats even more softly. The tempo of her Gigue was the fastest I have ever heard, and with the most elegant hand crossings, nonetheless.
She brought the same sure-handed daring to Chopin’s second piano sonata (B-flat minor, op. 35), but here the first movement was perhaps too mechanical, and the second-movement Scherzo too loud and hammered. Weaker still was the long third movement, the famous “Funeral March,” blurred by heavy use of the sustaining pedal as if the scene were clouded by a morning mist. The tone colors were often intriguing, but Rana’s touch was too unvaried to sustain interest through the slow middle section with its many repetitions. Yet the technical polish made the last movement an almost indistinct glimmer of whirring notes, a truly astounding conclusion.
A second half of Russian music represented a better combination of brawn and intellect. Scriabin was staying in Genoa and the Crimea while working on his second piano sonata (“Sonate-fantaisie,” op. 19, 1892-97), and the sounds and feel of the ocean waves drive the piece. Rana offered countless tiny differentiations of tone in the first movement, creating the effect of moonlight on the sea in the sections of music written in E major, the key that the synesthete Scriabin saw as a light blue or sea blue color. With the tumult of sound in the second movement she also captured the sense of a storm-roiled ocean, as surges rose and vanished.
Prokofiev’s sixth piano sonata (A major, op. 82) was the only piece that Rana also played at her recital last year, and I was glad to hear it again. Here the vicious, percussive side of her musical personality was perfectly suited to this soundscape of machine guns and unrelenting savagery, complete with stabbed notes and clusters struck with the fist. The work’s more sardonic parts — the goofy intermezzo of the second movement and the velvety, sentimental waltz of the third — were just as effective. One hopes there will be more Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky in her future.
Downey is a freelance writer who blogs arts news and reviews at Ionarts.com.