Ann Schein opens Key Pianists series with sensitive Chopin and Schumann

Thu Oct 06, 2016 at 1:48 pm
Ann Schein performed at Weill Hall Wednesday night. Photo: Christian Steiner

Ann Schein performed at Weill Hall Wednesday night. Photo: Christian Steiner

It was a slightly odd feeling to be at Carnegie Hall the night before the hall’s official season opening. Key Pianists, a series founded just last year by Terry Eder, with the aim of bringing in pianists who are not otherwise a regular feature on New York’s stages, opened its second season on Wednesday. In a city that is certainly not lacking for piano recitals, the series seems already to have developed a strong following, filling Weill Hall almost to capacity.

Wednesday’s pianist was Ann Schein, whose career once found her at Carnegie Hall, but who has been away from New York’s main circuit for some time. Key Pianists makes a point of inviting artists who have a repertory specialty. Presenting a program of Beethoven, Schumann, and Chopin, Schein apparently specializes in European Romanticism, which is no small fiefdom.

Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata, Op. 81a, showed the confidence of her playing, a sense of deep understanding conveyed with classic, uncomplicated technique. Schein is a stoic figure at the keyboard, her hands moving only as much as they must, and while there is not a great deal of tonal finesse to her touch, she communicates musical ideas beautifully through elegant shaping.

The second movement, “Abwesenheit,” was straightforward–excessively so, perhaps. More nuance, more variation, could have helped to amplify the music’s emotional power, where instead we got a feeling of detachment.. The last movement, “Das Wiedersehen,” was much more alive, though Schein’s right hand began to sound unsure as she steamed through the passagework.

Schein contributed an impressive essay on Schumann’s Davidsbündlertünze to the program booklet, and indeed showed great affinity for the piece, a more natural feel than she had in the Beethoven. She brought spring-toed grace to the first dance and followed with beautiful, soft glow in the second. Her playing in No. 2 was never tinkling: the left hand saw to that, its distant thundering balancing the delicacy of the right.

This set of dances presents several characters and a wide array of moods, all of which Schein vividly portrayed, from the lazy charm of No. 5, to the pensive longing of No. 7 and the tender caress of No. 11. She got a little careful here and there–No. 12 (“Mit Humor”) tip-toed around its joke, as though trying not to offend. On the whole, though, she grasped the essential flavor of the music combining her brilliant qualities of clear phrasing and musical sense in the final three dances.

Best of all was the closing item, Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B Minor. There was almost a Beethovenian confidence in Schein’s approach to the music, as she combined a firm attack with splendid, singing melody. In her sprightly rendition of the scherzo she seemed far more nimble than she had in the finale of the Beethoven, rippling through tricky runs with grace. In the trio she made the instrument glow like nowhere else on the program.

The Largo showed a strong affinity for the quiet intensity of Chopinian bliss, sublime and rolling. Only the Finale seemed slightly off, not quite conveying the force-of-nature intensity needed and holding a bit of passion in reserve–something of which Chopin can rarely be accused. Still, she powered to an impressive finish, earning an immediate standing ovation from the audience.

In her first encore, the second of Chopin’s Trois nouvelles études, she found a lovely, soft, breathing sound, giving a sensitive and kind interpretation. She was eager to offer a second, this time Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in B-flat Major, op. 23, No. 2. Here Schein delivered the most big-hearted playing she gave all night, a swirling dance, with a perfectly spun waterfall at the end, trickling beautifully into the final flourish.

The next installment in the Key Pianists series will present Terry Eder 7:30 p.m. March 2, 2017, in Weill Recital Hall.

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