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Beatrice Rana gives an ‘artful’ performance of JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Beatrice Rana (Warner Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

JS Bach
Goldberg Variations
Beatrice Rana (piano)
Warner Classics 9029588018

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My first encounter with this pianist was accidental. While clearing the kitchen one day in January, I casually put on Radio 3: somebody was half-way through the Goldbergs at the Wigmore Hall. And I was transfixed. No question of waiting until it became available on iPlayer: I had to stay with it, listen to every note, there and then. The playing was irresistibly persuasive, and perfectly judged – clearly the product of musical maturity. Who could it be? Step forward Beatrice Rana, now the talk of the town – and this month voted our Newcomer of the Year – at the ripe old age of 24.

Her CD of this same work confirms my initial assessment: 77 minutes spin by in a flash, powered by the filigree virtuosity and artful pacing of the pianism. The first appearance of the Aria exudes grace and promise, with infinitesimally fine stretchings of the pulse; its valedictory appearance has a matt, whitened quality suggestive of all passion spent. Rana presents the journey in between – circular or linear? who cares? – with the musical equivalent of a lighting-designer’s work in the theatre.

Every piece in Rana’s tapestry is vividly characterised, and none are overblown, didactic, or taken at an exaggerated tempo. The alternating comedy, grandeur, and exultant cleverness of the up-beat variations surges boldly out, while the seemingly endless melody of Variation 13 feels at moments suspended in mid-flight, the lamentation of Variation 15 cries to the heavens, and the tragedy of the ‘Black Pearl’ (25) becomes heart-stoppingly profound. Moreover, Rana is alert to these 30 pieces’ organic connections: to the way the palette darkens between Variations 19 and 21, and the way 26 comes like a re-affirmation of life after the sepulchral 25th, while in her hands the final variations build steadily to a jubilant ‘Quodlibet’. For this CD, five stars are not enough.

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Michael Church