Thursday, 17 January 2013

ANN SCHEIN Piano Recital / Review

ANN SCHEIN Piano Recital
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall
Tuesday (15 January 2013)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 17 January 2013 with the title "Grand dame's quicksilver fingers".

Some of the best concerts in Singapore can be had for free, if one undertook the small task of venturing westward to Kent Ridge where the national music conservatory is located. Despite the paucity of publicity, this morsel of wisdom was not lost on the hundreds who turned up for a piano recital by Ann Schein,

In her mid-seventies, Schein is surely America’s “Grand Dame of the piano”, and one who is still pursuing an active concert career worldwide. Her substantial recital unfurled pianism in the grand tradition, one unfazed by the flash and hyperbole that obsess younger keyboard practitioners of today. The unmannered way she played the first three chords of Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata (Op.81a) was a case in point.

Utter clarity and clean lines, topped with a generously sumptuous sonority, distinguished her view of this programmatic work, which capture the feelings of parting with a loved one, and longing absence. One could feel the sadness, and the sense of anticipation which turned to joyous exhilaration upon the return of the beloved.

Exemplary pedalling made Ravel and Debussy a pleasure to listen. When used sparingly, the former’s neoclassical Sonatine became a graceful jaunt, especially in the elegant central minuet movement. When applied more liberally, the misty haze that shrouded the latter’s L’Isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island) added to the mystique, which gradually evaporated as the work flew to its ecstatic conclusion.

As if to prove she was totally comfortable with prestidigitation, the repeated notes of Liszt’s vertiginous Tarantella (from Years of Pilgrimage) were dispatched with disarming ease. The big chords and octaves that followed truly astonished, coming from someone of a petite physical stature.   

The piano stool was already raised to its maximum height. Adding to that, Schein further elevated herself by sitting on a handbag. This diametrically polar opposite of Glenn Gould (who managed just 14 inches off the floor) then brought forth a Chopin Third Sonata of nobility. She chose a deliberately moderate tempo, and let the music unravel majestically with a Patrician sense of purpose.

Here was an object lesson of how to be seen and heard without being gimmicky or outwardly showy. Quicksilver responses in the Scherzo were exchanged with the slow movement’s gentle calm, and a rock-steady Finale then roared to life. There were missed notes in the fray, but who cares when passion could be expressed with the vehemence of thunder.

There were two encores, the third of Chopin’s Trois Nouvelles Etudes and Rachmaninov’s rapturous Prelude in B flat major (Op.23 No.2). In the last, Schein scrolled back the years and showed that her septuagenarian fingers could still make far younger virtuosos green with envy. 

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