Wednesday, 13 April 2016

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, April 2016)

PROKOFIEV Piano Concerto No.2
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No.1
Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
Warner Classics 0825646009091 / *****

The 22-year-old Italian pianist Beatrice Rana shot into the limelight after winning the Silver Medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her highly impressive debut concerto recording features the same concerto she played in Fort Worth, Texas: Sergei Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto.

In four movements, it is gradually eclipsing the popularity of his Third Piano Concerto, simply because more young pianists are now able to cope with its immense technical demands. Take for example the 1st movement's massive cadenza which also doubles up as its development. Or the 2nd movement's motor-like scurry of semi-quavers which never lets up for a second.

Rana takes these in her stride, wallows in the grotesqueries of the balletic 3rd movement and finishes off the tempestuous finale with breathtaking aplomb. She is less excitable or volatile than her closest rival, the flashier Yuja Wang (on Deutsche Grammophone) who was recorded live, but this reading stands multiple listens. 

Just as brilliant is her reading of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, which in terms of visceral thrills, equals that of Martha Argerich's famous recordings. If Rana is the future of the piano, listeners have a lot to look forward to.

Warner Classics 0825646155019 (2CDs) / ****1/2 

It may not be common knowledge that the great Soviet era Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) once harboured thoughts of being a virtuoso pianist. He even won a diploma at the 1927 Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw, which came as a bitter disappointment for him. 

Thankfully he turned to composition thereafter and never looked back. These recordings of Shostakovich playing his own music date mostly from 1958 when he was already a famous and established composer.

His playing is best exemplified in the two Piano Concertos (with Andre Cluytens conducting) and the Three Fantastic Dances, which shows him to be skittish, mercurial and almost improvisational, very unlike the more studied and disciplined accounts of modern-day pianists. More sober but equally persuasive is a selection of the Preludes and Fugues (Op.87), where his clarity in voicing of individual contrapuntal threads becomes paramount. 

Also priceless is hearing him accompany the great Mstislav Rostropovich in the lyrical Cello Sonata in D major. The date and venue of this rarity remains unknown, but the performance is a diamond among assorted gems.  

No comments: