Classical Music Guide - Monday, July 22, 2019 - Written by Donald Isler

Ann Schein

July 19th, 2019

Beethoven: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 81a "Les Adieux"
Copland: Piano Variations
Ravel: Sonatine
Debussy: L'isle joyeuse
Rachmaninoff: Etudes-Tableaux in E-Flat Minor and E-Flat Major, Op. 33
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in D Major, Op. 23, No. 4
Rachmaninoff: Prelude in B-Flat Major, Op. 23, No. 2
Chopin; Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58

According to the program notes, Ann Schein made her first recordings in 1958, and performed at the White House in 1963. If Wikipedia is accurate, she will celebrate her 80th birthday later this year. One might not expect such a person to play a big, demanding program which, having started a bit after the 8:30 official time, only reached intermission at 10 o'clock! But Ann Schein, whose very fine performance of Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze I remembered from perhaps ten years ago, still puts together programs that no one would consider easy, and plays them very well, indeed. She does not always use the fastest tempi, but neither does she play too slowly. She knows exactly what works for her AND for the music.

The program began with Beethoven's Les Adieux Sonata, and I was reminded of her wonderful musicianship. After the challenging first movement, the slow movement was emotional and expressive, and the last movement was strong, with a variety of shadings.

Her reading of the Ravel Sonatine featured a lovely first movement with shimmering sounds, charm and warmth in the second movement, and SPARKS wonderfully tossed off in the finale.

With hardly a pause, she launched into Debussy's L'isle joyeuse, which was full of mystery, playfulness and ecstasy.

The first Rachmaninoff Etude Tableau had the contrasts of lightness and apprehension, and the second one was very energetic.

The D Major Prelude by the same composer was not at all sentimental but emphasized the interaction of the different voices. The brilliant B-Flat Prelude was powerful and elegant.

For this listener, the most impressive part of the first half of the program was Ms. Schein's performance of the Copland Variations, which, she said, she recorded long ago. It is not "lovable" or beautiful, and is an early work of Copland, dating from 1930. It is harsh, dissonant and craggy, and based on motives that sometimes turn around on each other, and answer each other. The composer's use of rhythm is as important to how the variations work as the notes themselves. There is also some very tricky passage work. It is a piece of architecture in sound, and Ms. Schein was colossally successful in conveying this.

Such is Ms. Schein's popularity with her fans that she arrived onstage to begin the second half of the program, which consisted of the B Minor Sonata of Chopin, and was greeted with cheers.

The first movement was strong, not too fast but spacious, and showed her understanding of the composer's idiom. The second movement was played at a more daring tempo, with the middle section, appropriately, somewhat slower. In the third movement she played the main theme rather straight, and the middle section was strong and compelling. The finale was played at a good, though not very fast tempo. It was intense, featured impressive passage work, and had a powerful ending.

Before playing the first encore Ms. Schein said "I don't know how you can listen to any more!" and then explained she would play the A-Flat Nouvelle Etude of Chopin because her teacher had given it to her to improve her ability with two against three rhythms, and because it's a favorite of her husband.

After coming out onstage once or twice more, to acknowledge applause, she announced "I haven't attempted this in awhile but you'll know what it is!" and launched into the B-Flat Minor Prelude of Chopin, one of the fastest and hardest of them. This time she pulled out all the stops. It sizzled!

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