12 Etudes; Scherzos Nos 1-4
Beatrice Rana (piano)
Warner Classics 9029676424 75:47 mins
Beatrice Rana has spoken of how she came to Chopin quite late – relatively speaking, since the Italian pianist is still only in her late 20s. Though it’s nearly a decade since she recorded the Preludes, she didn’t rush into the rest of Chopin and the thoughtfully mature approach she takes on this new album certainly recognises the composer’s rigour and originality.
Nothing in the entire literature of Etudes surpasses Chopin’s Op. 25, and the best interpreters not only clear all the technical hurdles but project the 12 pieces as a progressive sequence. Rana’s performances add up very satisfyingly, yet they are also full of remarkable detail, beginning with a gentle caressing of the first, ‘Aeolian Harp’ piece. Emphasising smooth lyricism in the earlier pieces, she has all the pianistic facility for those exercises in thirds and stormy octaves. The ‘Winter Wind’ sweeps through inexorably in the penultimate Etude before the cycle reaches a triumphant close.
Rana worked on the Scherzos during 2020’s lockdown and relates their emotional extremes to what many people have been going through. She announces herself with fiery attack in the opening B minor work, and contrasts this with the gentle Christmas lullaby of its middle section. It may seem perverse to find Scherzos too skittish, yet there are places (in her B flat minor especially) where the ideas feel in need of being more joined up. By contrast, the final E major work is wholly successful, with one of Chopin’s most deeply felt melodies contrasting reflectively with the mercurial outer sections.