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Beatrice Rana steals the show from Igor & the Sergeis

Verizon Hall
06/06/2019 -  & June 7 (New York), 8* (Philadelphia), 2019
Igor Stravinsky: Funeral Song, Opus 5
Sergei Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, Opus 26
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 13

Beatrice Rana (Piano)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Conductor)

B. Rana (© Nicolas Bets)

The Philadelphia Orchestra returned from their China tour in May to conclude home season in Philly sounding as charged as ever with a ‘Russian Masters’ program that included an early work by Stravinsky, a stalwart showpiece by Rachmaninoff and the Prokofiev’s groundbreaking piano Concerto No. 3 by soloist Beatrice Rana, who made a stunning debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2015 at Saratoga Performing Arts Center and now appearing in her subscription debut performances with the Philadelphians in Verizon Hall.

Rana’s appearance was exciting as the news that Hollywood star Bradley Cooper and native Philadelphian would be one of the narrators on for the stellar vocal cast of Candide later this month. But the most sensational arts news in Philly this month for music lovers was that The Philadelphia Orchestra would receive a $55 million endowment gift by anonymous arts philanthropists to be administered through Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

No mention of the big bucks from the podium June 8 by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin who immediately got down to the business of detailing the Russian music the orchestra’s debut performance of Funeral Song, a recently discovered early work by Stravinsky. Composed in 1909, with undeniable foreshadows to Igor’s score to The Firebird, it nonetheless is more fascinating for its Russian romanticism and its literal funereal Sturm und Drang. One wonders what Prokofiev, who accused Igor of wanted to become a French composer, would have said about it. Nézet-Séguin gives it a vivid, if academic reading, and perhaps even a bit rote in this performance.

There was nothing rote from any angle Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and lucky for those who couldn’t attend, that this concert was being recorded live for eventual release by Deutsche Grammophon, Nézet-Séguin’s label with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Pianist Beatrice Rana, radiant in a bright green satin gown, glided onstage with Yannick. Rana’s relaxed command performing this technically demanding piece is evident from the first bars. The orchestral-soloist dialogue in this concerto is in parts almost pugilistic, but the sonic architecture is so brilliant that the serene Andante, has just as much agency, in its lyrical impact. The hand over hand chord clusters of the first movement, Rana’s fingering on those impossible hand over hand, atom spitting tempos, delivered with Olympian artistry. It is past virtuosic, it is all about the clarity and the mystique of Prokofiev’s piano voicings. Sergei was after all a concert virtuoso who conquered the west on tour. He composed the Concerto between 1917-21, before giving all that up to return to Russia, where and he continued to defy musical conventions that could have gotten him exiled to Siberia. His subversive music so deft it penetrated Stalin’s malignant attempt to censor free expression.

Rachmaninoff’s Symphony no. 1, the concert closer, which Nézet-Séguin delivers as the bombastic showpiece it is, but with exquisite detailing. Even if, by the third movement, it gets a bit symphonically thick and some of that soupiness definitely spilled out in this performance. But quickly made up for Philadelphia Orchestra’s stellar depth of sound that has come to be expected particularly identified with Rachmaninoff repertory.

Lewis Whittington



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