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Beatrice Rana puts Chopin’s Études in new light

Beatrice Rana (JCE)
Beatrice Rana, an Italian piano soloist, on a mezzanine at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, June 4, 2019. (Photo: NYTimes)
The new classical album by Italian piano prodigy Beatrice Rana was released by Warner Classics just last September and it already has received exceptional, unanimous, international acclaim. It is titled “Chopin Études Op. 25 - 4 Scherzi”. Whether it is the prestigious BBC Music Magazine, the New York Times, or simply the listeners’ comments on Amazon.com, all seem to agree that it is a fantastic album.اضافة اعلان

To achieve this within the extremely challenging classical music world and, moreover, to do it with compositions that are regarded as major reference works, Chopin’s Études (French for studies), and that have been performed and recorded time and time again by the greatest pianists in the world, constitutes a tour de force, an achievement that is nothing short of extraordinary.

How do classical performers manage to bring new elements to works that have been heard so many times, played by others? Especially when you consider that you cannot change the inherent spirit of the composition.

Whereas pop musicians can take a known song, make an entirely new “cover” of it, bringing their own flavor, often with totally new arrangements, classical performers cannot. Chopin music must be played like, well, Chopin music! There are strict rules in the classical world.

Still, musicians are human beings and not machines, and so their personal interpretation of known classical works will always bear their personal imprint, revealing their touch, while abiding by the classical rules that pertain to a given composer and a given period. You don’t play Chopin like you play Bach.

Throughout the entire album, Beatrice Rana’s performance shows exceptional fluidity, particularly in the arpeggios, and a great subtlety of tones. She also plays with the “just right” tempos (or tempi, for the purists).

Listening to how she plays the superb Étude Op.25 No.11 in A minor, and comparing it to the interpretation of the same piece by legendary Italian piano great Maurizio Pollini back in 1960, makes you unable to say which is more beautiful, given that both are brilliant.

Whereas Pollini’s may be felt as “a spine-tingling experience”, in the producer Peter Andrys’ own words, Rana’s has a dream-like effect on you. Pollini’s power may be unmatched, but the finesse that Rana shows is also exceptional. She really takes you flying high in the sky, in a sort of poetic reverie. Both artists go beyond the technical difficulty and enchant your senses.

If you happen to be a pianist yourself and lend Beatrice Rana’s album your performer’s ear, the ease with which she sails through the technically challenging pieces will blow your mind and will keep you asking: “How does she do it?”

In addition to the 12 Studies featured, the recording includes four Scherzi (plural of Scherzo, Italian for “play” or “joke”). These are open, free pieces, as the name implies. They are a little longer than the Studies. The four Scherzi, too, are exquisite pieces.

Historically, Polish composer Frederic Chopin (1810–1849) belongs to what musicologists call “the classical period”. Along with Hungarian Franz Liszt (1811–1886) of the same period, he is still regarded today as the most influential composer of works for piano.

Commenting on the Études, Beatrice Rana said “If you can play Chopin’s Études comfortably, you can probably play anything written for the piano. ...”
Initially, the Études were written as exercises meant to address a specific technical difficulty, pertaining to the instrument, that allow the performer to train, to study, and to overcome that difficulty — not necessarily to please an audience. However, when composed by geniuses like Chopin, they brought with them an appeal and a beauty that ended up pleasing the listener as well, and so they became much more than mere technical exercises. Beatrice Rana does justice to the works.

The young Italian musician started to study the piano at four years old and gave her first major public performance at age nine. She is 28 now. Her recording of Johann-Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations has won her the title of “Best Female Artist of the Year”, at the 2018 Classic Brit Awards. The Goldberg Variations, just like Chopin Studies, are absolute reference works in the classical domain. 

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