Before Ciara, there was Beatrice. A select number of the audience at Wigmore Hall on Friday night knew the storm that was about to hit them; many more didn't. When I read Beatrice Rana's words in her Bachtrack interview with Thomas May, “Whenever we go onstage, we have to give everything to the audience,” I dismissed them as standard artist platitude. Having now seen her in recital, I realise how wrong that was: they’re just a description of the way she works.

Beatrice Rana © Nicolas Bets
Beatrice Rana
© Nicolas Bets

The first music of the evening, J.S. Bach’s Italian Concerto, showed just how different Rana’s approach is from the rest of the pack of young pianists. Her touch is weighty: the notes come through with a full and rounded timbre. But with the weightiness of touch comes almost uncanny accuracy, so the melody in a passage of notes is clear as well as rich: there’s no question of the waters being muddied. And that applies to both high and low registers, so that the simultaneous high and low melodies of Bach’s counterpoint were as clear as each other. Rana plays the Bach with relatively little pedal and none too extreme dynamics: in a way, it’s quite a harpsichord-like style and it makes for a thrilling performance. The first movement was over far too soon. In the second movement, there was roundedness of timbre and there was carefully thought through long-term phrasing that made for delicious cantabile while making your ear want to find out what was coming next. The third movement was joyous in its sure-footed acceleration.

Robert Schumann wrote his Piano Sonata no. 3 in F minor as a five movement piece: his publisher persuaded him to drop two of them, publishing it under the title of “Concerto Without Orchestra”, making it a neat counterpart to the Bach. It’s not an unfair description: with the tempestuous way in which Rana set about the first movement, I had a surprisingly vivid sense of listening to a Rachmaninov concerto. Rana was masterful at thickening the texture when wanted, but elsewhere showing delicacy, with a surprisingly clean touch for such a full-blooded performer. The first sign of muddiness came in the third movement, which Rana took at a fair clip. This isn’t a work performed all that often and I’m not sure that she persuaded me of its merits, but I was certainly enthralled by her playing style.

The second half of the recital had similar internal symmetry, contrasting three movements from Book 3 of Isaac Albéniz’s Iberia with Stravinsky’s Three movements from Petrushka. The Albéniz is a relatively recent newcomer to Rana’s repertoire and I would suggest that it’s still a work in progress. It started well, with the flamenco rhythms coming through strongly in the quiet opening passage of El Albaicin, well matched to Rana’s basic roundedness of tone, with more intense dynamic contouring than she had used earlier. But in El polo, the rubato didn’t sound natural and the playing was too percussive for the melancholy melody to shine through.

The Stravinsky was a different matter, thrilling from start to finish. Stravinsky’s arrangement is continually springing surprises on you, often creating improbable effects that Rana made the most of. Petrushka’s cheeky little rising four note motif was executed with wonderful humour, the carousel of the Shrovetide Fair whirled around us. This was piano playing at its most dynamic, but always with intent and never degenerating into mere bashing.

More Schumann for an encore – the gentle Romance, Op.28 no.2, which we needed to calm us down before heading into the night. A recital to remember.

****1