Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 10
Beatrice Rana’s affetuoso, free-spirited approach to Chopin’s Etudes Op. 25 and four Scherzos may not suit all tastes, yet there’s no question that she has the means to bring off her conceptions. Put simply, Rana can do whatever she wants at the piano. She can bring out any voice in any line, at any dynamic at any tempo. She never loses digital control, even when passages whiz by faster than the ear can grasp. Rana’s tonal resources are prodigious, her sonority fills the room without the slightest banging, and her bass notes resonate to kingdom come. And the pianist’s legato lines consistently retain a smooth profile, no matter how soft or loud.
Op. 25’s highlights include fleet, supple, and ravishingly phrased accounts of Nos. 2 and 4, a sweeping and big-boned No. 12, plus a perky, pointed No. 9 “Butterfly” Etude where Rana tosses off the final notes softly and in tempo, just as Chopin indicates. She infuses musical steroids into No. 7 yielding outsized, rhapsodic results that undermine the work’s tender introspection. In No. 5, Rana also falls victim to her creativity in her restless quest for novel voicings, fanciful accents, and pedal effects. She dovetails straight into No. 6, where her feathery, almost offhand double thirds take a back seat to her epic treatment of the left hand part: this is a “personality” reading in the best sense of the word. One can say the same for Rana’s freshly minted phrasing throughout No. 10 (the “octave” etude).
Rana subjects the B minor Scherzo’s outer sections to playful speed-ups and slow-downs, yet prevents the Trio from dragging as it so often does in modern performances. While the B-flat minor sports arresting details, they ultimately add up to a sectionalized, fragmented whole. The C-sharp minor lacks Argerich’s demonic undercurrents and dramatic focus, although the speed and precision of Rana’s octaves certainly gives the older pianist a run for her money. Despite Rana’s amazing articulation of the E major’s rapid runs and dotted rhythms, the pianist tends to fidget within the framework of her basic pulse.
By contrast, Evgeny Kissin’s steadier pace and intelligently meted-out rubato proves more cohesive, not to mention the scintillatingly archetonic 1936 Vladimir Horowitz and 1955 Ashkenazy points of reference. Benjamin Grosvenor’s pianistically comparable yet more expressively proportioned Decca release remains my first choice for a modern-day Scherzo cycle, followed closely by Yundi Li’s on DG. Sonically speaking, Rana’s Chopin disc is one of the most robust and realistic piano recordings I’ve encountered from Berlin’s Teldex Studio.
Reference Recording: Etudes Op. 25: Zayas (Music & Arts), Four Scherzos: Grosvenor (Decca)