Chamber: Saturday, June 1, 2:45 p.m.
The first appearance of the Brentano String Quartet was quite an occasion. They are one of the best quartets in the world and their recent appearances have astonished. Here is an interview with them, done before their appearance as part of the Cliburn Concerts series at Bass Hall, and here is a review of that performance. In some ways, it might have served to have them play something by themselves before jumping into the first appearance with the contestants, so that we could get accustomed to their playing. As it was, it took a while to pull attention back from marveling at their tone and intonation, to what was going on with their collaboration with the pianist.
However, nothing could detract from the sensitive and collaborative performance that Beatrice Rama delivered. The Brentano must have enjoyed playing this performance of Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, op. 44, with her because she was in constant contact with all four players.
with the Brentano String Quartet
In the second movement, she kept her eye on the first violinist for what appeared to be all the time. Even though she is the contestant and she is being judged on her performance, she always deferred to the first violinist in matters of tempo and attack—which is how it should be. In one passage where she had a triplet accompaniment, she virtually vanished. However, when it was her turn to play out, she rose above the level just enough to take over the musical thought without calling undue attention to herself. She could have been a little more forthright in the trios, but that is a personal preference and there was nothing wrong with how she chose to play it.
She took charge at the beginning of the last movement but still checked in when it came to the ritards. There is a passage where she has low 16th notes and she made certain to be very clear on them because the viola has a tricky entrance. Her staccato passages were clean and she always knew what was important to play out—and when to step back.
This was an excellent performance from start to finish and bodes well for the other chamber music performances to come. Rana will be hard to surpass.
Recital: Monday, June 3, 2:45 p.m.
Beatrice Rana started out in her semifinal appearance playing a sensitive version of the Schumann Quintet. It was our first hearing of the Brentano and it took a few measures for many of us in the audience to stop marveling at their playing and return our concentration to the business at hand, namely how Rana plays chamber music. However, part of our fascination included her sensitive performance and ability to achieve an excellent balance. Her entire performance was beautiful and there is little doubt that it added to her credit with the judges.
So there was some extra interest in her second appearance in the semifinals, which was a solo recital with a thoughtfully chosen program. She opened with a rarely heard work by Scriabin, his Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor Op. 19, subtitled “Sonata-Fantasy.” This is probably because it is in two movements which, combined, is about the length of a first movement in a more typical sonata. It is a programmatic work depicting the sea, calm in the first movement, and stormy in the second. This means that it requires an artist who can create a mood, and here Rana excelled. Its technical demands are formidable and, once again, Rana met the challenge.
However, there is more required than the ability to play lots of notes very quickly. Scriabin requires enormous reaches (stretches) that few pianists can accomplish. Like most, she played them as a rolled chord. No one noticed anyway, as they don’t in any other pieces that require huge hands. Big reach or not, her performance made such a good case for the sonata that you cannot help but wonder why it isn’t played more often.
Theofanidis’ Birichino received another molto serioso performance of a piece that is intended to be molto anti-serioso. You would think that an Italian, like Rana, would have an intimate understanding of what the title means, whether or not she grew up with lots of birichini (mischievous children, sometimes translated as little imps or rascals). Perhaps she wasn’t one herself, judging from her lack of fun in playing the piece. She played all the notes perfectly, but she joins the club of pianists who have played it like a Bartók étude.
The second half of her program was a trip through the imaginative and wondrously varied world of Chopin’s 24 Preludes. In contrast to the previous selection, Rana was completely in sync with all of Chopin’s moods. She grouped them into supersets by running some together and taking a long pause between others. This required her to approach the endings differently than she would have if she were playing them separately.
A good example of her making a connection was between the fourth and fifth, but her adjustment was made to the start of the fifth one. She started it more tentatively than you would otherwise. One other example was her complete lack of a pause between numbers 19, which ends with big chords, and 20, which opens with another one in the relative minor. By playing them in a corresponding manner and dynamic, they seemed to be part of one piece.
There is really no reason to go through all of these separately. Impressive touches abounded. There were some quibbles, such as overplaying the accompaniment figure in the left hand in number 21. Also, in a performance marked by her judicious and minimal use of the sustaining pedal, she occasionally muddied passages, such as the octaves in the left hand in number 22.
However, these complaints are insignificant in light of the effect she created with the overall performance.
◊ Our profile of Beatrice Rana, 20, Italy
◊ You can see quick links to the reviews of the other semifinalists here