Ann Schein's Radiant Piano Recital at Elon University
by William Thomas Walker
The Adams Foundation Piano Recitals, held in Elon University's jewelbox, Whitley Auditorium, have become synonymous for the best in keyboard artistry in the central Piedmont. This winter's soloist, Ann Schein, addressed the large audience for her February 24 concert and spoke glowingly about the organization's mission, which is to preserve the dying format of the piano recital. Her broad musicianship reflects the legacy of her teachers, Mieczyslaw Munz, Arthur Rubinstein, and Dame Myra Hess. Her technical mastery was perfect for Elon's gloriously restored 1922D Steinway. At the post-concert reception, she told its restorer, John Foy, that he had created a "real thoroughbred!"
With the influence of such teachers, it is no wonder that Schein is famous for her interpretations of Chopin. Throughout the 1980 season, in Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall, she presented the major Chopin repertoire in the first Chopin cycle heard in New York in 35 years. Elon received a delicious and large helping, and I hope she will bring lots more in the future.
Daringly, she opened with that heroic tour de force, Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat, Op. 61. She said that, in this, the composer portrays "the heroic - almost like the struggle between good and evil." Full ranges of color, dynamic expression, and melody were exposed. Where many recitals end, she began and then expanded. What a treat it was to hear all of the 24 Preludes of Op. 28! Each gem was presented with unaffected simplicity (although the mood of the slow, beautiful second prelude was interrupted by some idiot's cell phone...). The same virtues were present in her first encore, the posthumous A-flat Étude from the Trois nouvelles etudes, and her second, the Étude in C-sharp minor, Op. 10/4.
Francophiles basked in the glow of her performances of Ravel's Sonatine and Debussy's "L'Isle joyeuse" after intermission. These extended compositions reveal the composers' contrasted approaches within the "Impressionistic" style. Following within the French clavecin tradition and using baroque dance forms, Ravel "sculpted" an elegant crystal in sound while Debussy "painted" with the colors of sound. Shein's mastery of style made this more evident than usual.
Schein made her professional debut playing Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, and she still has more than enough upper body strength to play the "Tarantella" from Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage : Deuxieme Année - Italie. Between the coursing bravura passages, her rendering of the gentle folksong was marred by the second freight train of the evening.
The restorer of Elon's crown jewel, John Foy (http://www.johnfoypiano.com/ - inactive 4/09), corrected the dating of the 1922D Steinway that he purchased in Greensboro. It was completely taken apart and had its original soundboard re-created before being fitted with an entirely new action, "Precision TouchDesignT" by David Standwood. Instead of the roughly empirical balancing of the hammers used by the major makers, very precise computer-assisted balancing allowed for the use of heavier hammers, which contribute to the glorious sound. All the Adams Foundation artists - Richard and John Contiguglia, Steven Mayer, Leon Bates, Ruth Laredo, and Schein - have been unstinting in their enthusiasm for the instrument. CVNC readers might be interested to know that Foy's brother is the Music Director of the two orchestras of the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association.