Review: Cliburn silver medalist shines bright in Russian Festival

Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

The Russian Festival: From Russia with Love

7:30 p.m. Saturday (featuring pianist Alessandro Deljavan); 2 p.m. Sunday (featuring pianist Sean Chen)



Posted 12:02pm on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013

Hi-yo, Silver, indeed.

Beatrice Rana, the silver medalist in the recent 14th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, was the featured soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in the opening performance of the Fort Worth Symphony’s Russian Festival — a trio of concerts devoted to composers from that land — at Bass Hall on Friday.

The 20-year-old Italian, who also won the Audience Award at the Cliburn in June, once again proved to be the people’s favorite by taking on the concerto that was most closely associated with the festival’s dedicatee, piano legend and Fort Worth resident Van Cilburn, and living to tell the tale.

The performance got off to a slightly rocky start. Although Rana immediately displayed an exceptional evenness in her playing, her overall phrasing, though correct, was sometimes a bit dry and stiff. And when she had to battle the orchestra for dominance, as is often the case in any good Romantic concerto, the folks with the music stands usually won.

But after navigating the rough seas of the concerto’s first, and longest, movement, Rana’s level of confidence seemed to grow with each note. One of the most interesting aspects of her interpretation was that she embraced the work’s slightly edgy elements (yes, it does have a few) as wholeheartedly as its prettiness.

Dressed in a glittering, floor-length silver gown (lest we forget which medal she won), Rana really put her own stamp on the concerto’s concluding movement. She unveiled a gorgeous and unusual tone for the opening and decided to win some of the battles she had lost in the opening movement, blazing into an impressive finale that had the crowd of about 1,600 on its feet before her final notes had even started to decay.

The symphony, under the baton of music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya, provided strong support for Rana. In a musical version of tough love, they pushed her on every measure and did not ease up until she showed she could push back.

In appreciation of the thunderous applause following the concerto, Rana offered an encore — the Schumann-Liszt composition, Widmung — that recalled the easy elegance of her solo performances at the Cliburn.

On the whole, Rana’s performance was, at the very least, a good one to grow on. She doesn’t need to have any more piano lessons to do even better with the work. She just needs to be more than 20 years old. As she adds life experience to her dazzling technical skills, there will be even more depth to her fine playing.

The second half of the program was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 , in which Harth-Bedoya and the orchestra delivered a performance so delightfully Russian that you could see the Steppes from it.

From the first note to the last, the performance was a stunner. The brasses were sharp enough to cut yourself on. The strings were as sweet and tender as a mother’s love. And the woodwinds could have made a flock of songbirds weep.

Harth-Bedoya elicited sweeping moments of grandeur from his players when the score demanded. But he spent more time quieting them down than revving them up, making the softest passages shine with a special beauty. And the sly, pizzicato-heavy third movement was especially a joy in both its plan and execution.

The players were guilty of smelling the barn in the final movement. But before they could break free of their reins entirely, Harth-Bedoya was able to harness that energy into an explosive finale.

Most who attended Friday’s concert, which began with a heartfelt statement of thanks from Cliburn’s longtime partner, Thomas Smith, will remember Rana because she was probably the reason that brought them to the hall to start with. But, surprisingly, the orchestra’s muscular (yet sensitive) treatment of Tchaikovsky’s symphony outshone its treatment of the composer’s concerto.

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