Chopin is reserved, visionary and mysterious," says Beatrice Rana. "There are many layers to his music. It's pleasing to the ear and sincere in it's communication, but the deeper you go, the more you find..." For this album, Rana pairs Chopin's 12 op 25 études with his four scherzi, focusing on two musical genres that the composer, combining intellect and imagination, transformed into something new. "It was Chopin who invented the 'concert study'," explains Rana. "To me, the études seem implicitly connected, joined by a single line of expression, as if they are taking you on a journey. The scherzi are evocative pieces, full of contrasts... They represent three distinct stages of Chopin's life and creativity and it is easy to read stories into them." When Beatrice Rana played the op 25 études for her New York recital debut in 2019, the New York Times wrote: "If you can play Chopin's études comfortably, you can probably play anything written for the piano... and the best performances convey their musical riches. In that regard, Beatrice Rana set a new standard... She didn't just surmount the technical challenges; she made the pieces sound as poetic and colorful as anything Chopin ever wrote.
Beatrice Rana’s affetuoso, free-spirited approach to Chopin’s Etudes Op. 25 and four Scherzos may not suit all tastes, yet there’s no question that she has the means to bring off her conceptions. Put simply, Rana can do whatever she wants at the piano. She can bring out any voice in any line, at any dynamic at any tempo. She never loses digital control, even when passages whiz by faster than the ear can grasp. Rana’s tonal resources are prodigious, her sonority fills the room without the slightest banging, and her bass notes resonate to kingdom come. And the pianist’s legato lines consistently retain a smooth profile, no matter how soft or loud.
Op. 25’s highlights include fleet, supple, and ravishingly phrased accounts of Nos. 2 and 4, a sweeping and big-boned No. 12, plus a perky, pointed No. 9 “Butterfly” Etude where Rana tosses off the final notes softly and in tempo, just as Chopin indicates. She infuses musical steroids into No. 7 yielding outsized, rhapsodic results that undermine the work’s tender introspection. In No. 5, Rana also falls victim to her creativity in her restless quest for novel voicings, fanciful accents, and pedal effects. She dovetails straight into No. 6, where her feathery, almost offhand double thirds take a back seat to her epic treatment of the left hand part: this is a “personality” reading in the best sense of the word. One can say the same for Rana’s freshly minted phrasing throughout No. 10 (the “octave” etude).
Rana subjects the B minor Scherzo’s outer sections to playful speed-ups and slow-downs, yet prevents the Trio from dragging as it so often does in modern performances. While the B-flat minor sports arresting details, they ultimately add up to a sectionalized, fragmented whole. The C-sharp minor lacks Argerich’s demonic undercurrents and dramatic focus, although the speed and precision of Rana’s octaves certainly gives the older pianist a run for her money. Despite Rana’s amazing articulation of the E major’s rapid runs and dotted rhythms, the pianist tends to fidget within the framework of her basic pulse.
By contrast, Evgeny Kissin’s steadier pace and intelligently meted-out rubato proves more cohesive, not to mention the scintillatingly archetonic 1936 Vladimir Horowitz and 1955 Ashkenazy points of reference. Benjamin Grosvenor’s pianistically comparable yet more expressively proportioned Decca release remains my first choice for a modern-day Scherzo cycle, followed closely by Yundi Li’s on DG. Sonically speaking, Rana’s Chopin disc is one of the most robust and realistic piano recordings I’ve encountered from Berlin’s Teldex Studio.
– ClassicsToday.com (Jed Distler)