At the beginning of next month, San Francisco Performances (SFP) will present the last of the three recitals in its Young Masters Series, designed to introduce audiences to rising talents. The recitalist will be Italian pianist Beatrice Rana, making her San Francisco debut. In 2013 Rana won both the Silver Medal and the Audience Award at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Warner Classics released her debut album in November of 2015, a concerto album that combined Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Opus 23 in B-flat minor (the concerto that launched Cliburn’s own reputation for taking the Soviet Union by storm and winning the very first International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958) with Sergei Prokofiev’s Opus 16 in G minor.
Almost exactly a month ago Warner Classics released Rana’s first solo album. This was an ambitious undertaking for a solo album debut, since the recording consisted entirely of Johann Sebastian Bach’s BWV 988 set of (“Goldberg”) variations on an Aria theme. Rana has decided that this will also be the program for her San Francisco recital debut. This music is best known for its namesake, the harpsichordist Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, who, according to Johann Nikolaus Forkel, would play selected variations for his patron Count Hermann Karl von Keyserlingk, who had problems with insomnia.
“It may not be true, but it is a good story” is an old Italian saying. Rana probably knows it and sympathizes with it. However, it is probably the case that she is aware of and appreciates a less romanticized account of this music. That reality is based in Bach having published BWV 988 as the fourth and final volume of his Clavier-Übung (keyboard practice) collection, a project that suggests that, if Bach wanted to leave anything for posterity, it would be his wisdom as a pedagogue. In this particular case that wisdom had to do with the inventive art of variation on a simple theme. Rana’s notes for her recording booklet observe that the Aria theme can probably be traced back to a chaconne theme for which George Frideric Handel had composed 64 variations. Bach-the-pedagogue may have known about these and decided that the virtue of one set of variations is that it encourages the invention of another!
Nevertheless, there is a wide gulf between the depth of mastering the diverse inventiveness of 30 variations and the ability to translate that mastery into performing in front of an audience. Rana’s album makes a solid case that clarity of her understanding of what makes these variations tick can be translated to an equal clarity of execution. Nevertheless, a recording is never a substitute for those in-the-moment qualities that can only arise through the immediacy of establishing a relationship between the performer and the listener. Maintaining such a relationship for over an hour (Rana’s recording clocks in at almost 78 minutes) is never an easy matter, even when the music is familiar. If Rana’s album informs us of her cerebral and expressive skills in a studio, next month’s recital will allow us to appreciate how those skills translate into a concert setting.
Her performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 7. The venue will be Herbst Theatre, which is located at 401 Van Ness Avenue on the southwest corner of McAllister Street. All tickets are $40. Tickets may be purchased in advance online through a City Box Office event page. SFP may be contacted for further information by calling 415-392-2545.