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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Concert Review: New Blood for Old Masters

Beatrice Rana plays Mostly Mozart.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The young virtuoso Beatrice Rana took Mostly Mozart by storm.
Photo courtesy Warner Brothers Classics.
The music of Bach and Beethoven form a rite of passage for any young pianist. Playing the challenging works of these composers before a paying audience (as Beatrice Rana did last week at Mostly Mozart) is a further test. On Friday night, Ms. Rana made her festival debut with two performances: a preliminary concert featuring Bach's Partita No. 2 in c minor and the main event: a performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1.

The preliminary concert featured Ms. Rana playing Bach's second Partita for Keyboard in C Minor. This work was written as part of the Clavier-Übung, Bach's book of finger exercises and practice pieces to train young musicians on those instruments. And yet it is far more than just a set of musical training wheels, exploring joyful rhythms and dances in its six movements. When played on the piano, caution must be exercised as well as dynamic control, as the older instruments do not have the option to play at greater volume with increased finger-pressure.

Ms. Rana instantly showed why at 24, she has made Bach a central part of her repertory. The opening phrase of the Sinfonia arched in an elegant bridge of sound, expressed with longing that turned to a sense of resolve in the dances that followed. Her playing kept asking the important questions and finding the answers in each of the dances that followed: the lively Courante, the majestic Sarabande and an elegant Rondeau. The Capriccio put her command of the keyboard to its sternest test and she met it with authority, speed and just enough power.

The concert proper opened with the Egmont Overture, a stand-alone Beethoven movement. As the first chord sounded, one was struck by its ambiguity, a shifting, chromatic texture that in a few notes, planted the seed of Wagnerism that would bear fruit in the 19th century. Music director Louis Langrée brought the orchestra forward in the dramatic opening phrase with the woodwinds to the fore in the surging, upward rhythms.

The piano was restored to center stage for the Piano Concerto No. 1. Actually the second work for piano and orchestra that Beethoven wrote (a publisher's error was responsible for the switch) this is a genial concerto, with an extensive opening tutti that lets the orchestra prove themselves before the piano finally enters. When it did, Ms. Rana inserted herself neatly into the fabric of the work, dialoguing with the strings and wind in this genial first movement.

Beethoven became known as a master of the slow movement. Here is one of his most gorgeous, inward, soul-searching music that cemented his reputation as a composer and virtuoso performer. The finale is the best of all, a light-hearted Rondo that showed the young composer's ability to match serious inward thought with rollicking comedy. Ms. Rana and Mr. Langrée fed each other their lines and the orchestra and piano charged to a brilliant finish.

Two years ago, Mr. Langrée and his forces spent much of the Mostly Mozart festival wandering through the Beethoven symphonies with little clear purpose or statement emerging from their efforts. This Seventh showed a radical turnaround. The serious passages of the work (the opening of the first movement, the entirety of the Allegretto) were played with an intent that had been lacking in the past. Manic energy suffused the great dances that mark this symphony, shaking off the gloom of the heavy slow movement in a whirlwind of movement: of the conductor on the podium and of the notes flying from his player's instruments.

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