Beatrice Rana and the Orchestra dell’accademia nazionale di Santa Cecilia play Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky

'Exhilirating, extrovert and effortlessly virtuosic'

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Warner Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 2; Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1
PERFORMER: Beatrice Rana (piano); Orchestra dell’accademia nazionale di Santa Cecilia/Antonio Pappano
CATALOGUE NO: 2564600909

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The Italian pianist Beatrice Rana won second prize in the 2014 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition and, we’re told, Antonio Pappano invited her to record this CD with him – her first with an orchestra. Good call: the result is enormously impressive.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 dates from 1912-13 when the Russian composer was all of 22, though he substantially revised it in 1923 after the original manuscript was destroyed in a fire. Dedicated to the memory of a close friend who had committed suicide, it seems to hold all the anguish, fury and bleak desperation that that loss induced. Both Rana and Pappano embrace its grotesque aspects – the first billowing of orchestral harmony, distorted and agonising, is a case in point.

In the hands of Rana – who as it happens is the same age as Prokofiev was when he wrote it – the piece becomes a white-hot volcano of intense expression; it presents formidable technical challenges, all of which are surmounted almost with nonchalance, the pianist’s focus resolutely serving the score, not the mechanisms involved in performing it. She has a particularly rewarding sense of rhythm, high sprung, light and incisive and entirely secure, which pays its way throughout both works. But hearing her navigating through the massive cadenzas as if they and their bitter grandeur were the most natural thing in the world leaves no doubt that this is a young pianist to be watched, listened to and reckoned with.

In the Tchaikovsky too, Rana’s playing is exhilarating, extrovert and effortlessly virtuosic. She balances no-holds-barred emotions – this is Tchaikovsky interpretation as an epic-scale thrill-a-minute drama – with intelligent pacing and those same rock-solid musical instincts; and she seems an ideal match for Pappano’s operatically-honed identification with the progression of an unfolding musical narrative.

If this Tchaikovsky performance often feels more like verismo opera than delicate Mozartian ballet, it’s a powerful, fully defined interpretation that pays dividends in the soaring, aria-like quality of the melodies, so familiar yet here feeling as fresh as if we were hearing them for the first time. The orchestral playing has to it a surging spontaneity and plenty of visceral thrills. The clarinet’s articulation of the second subject with delicate stresses and extended syllables not only sings but speaks, as one would hope a fine opera singer might. And Rana can certainly do delicacy: the first movement’s cadenza is mellifluous and exquisitely detailed and the scherzo episode in the second movement sparkles.

To complete a wonderfully vivid picture, the recorded sound is radiant, clear and detailed.

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Jessica Duchen