Keyboard fanciers look forward to the fall and spring Adams Foundation Piano Recitals in the intimate Whitley Auditorium of Elon University. Stephen Adams, of Santa Barbara, California, inspired by his Yale University roommates John and Richard Contiguglia, established his foundation to counteract the vanishing of recitals by bringing the finest international artists to play in intimate venues in smaller communities. This is the series' 13th season; Elon has been blessed to have presented them from the outset; the foundation has presented 103 recitals in 25 communities in 25 states since 2001. Whitley Auditorium is the perfect place to hear great pianists because it houses a marvelously restored 1922 Steinway Model D with a remarkable Stanwood Precision Touch hammer mechanism.
The hall was well filled with music lovers, students, and piano faculty from the region to hear Ann Schein – a student of Mieczyslaw Munz, Arthur Rubinstein, and Dame Myra Hess – whose superb musicianship had been well established by her previous two recitals in the series. Her well-chosen program presented challenging works from the late Classical, early Romantic, and French "Impressionist" periods.
Beethoven's Sonata in E-flat, Op. 81a ("Les Adieux"), was inspired in part by the fleeing of the composer's student and friend, Archduke Rudolph of Austria, as Napoleon's armies marched on Vienna. It is in three movements :Adagio-Allegro (Les Adieux), Andante espressivo (L'Absence), and Vivacissimamente (Le Retour). The brief slow introduction introduces the basic theme from which all the other themes are derived. A highlight is the second movement, in which two ideas derived from the slow introduction are given distinctly different characters. It moves without a break to the joyous exultation of the finale. Schein played the subtle transition from the slow introduction superbly. Her slow movement was by turns poignant, searching, and wistful. She brought out the high spirits and dynamic scoring of the finale and tastefully made use of this 1923 Steinway's long decay on last notes.
Two selections from French Impressionism provided contrast. Ravel's Sonatine has a classical underlying structure with three movements unified by themes derived from similar origins. Ravel blends classical and 20th-century elements. He uses false starts and countless open fifths and fourths in the first movement. The elegant second movement has a fascinating series of transformations of its opening four-measure phrase. The delightful finale, "Animé," synthesizes material from the first two movements. Schein's care for tonal color and phrasing were a constant joy, and her articulation of the fastest passages was remarkable.
Schein's performance of Debussy's "L'Isle joyeuse" (1904) was a feast for the ear and the eye as she fearlessly dashed off its many crossed-hands passages at a rapid pace. The palette of tonal color she conjured up was magical. Schein pulled out all the stops for the Tarantella from "Venezia e Napoli" from Annnées de Pèlerinage Book II by Franz Liszt. To the legerdemain of crossed hands or interwoven fingers she added an almost orchestral sound woven from the thundering chords.
Schein is famous for her complete major Chopin cycle in six concerts in New York City's Alice Tully Hall during the 1980-81 season. The depth of her musicianship was evident throughout her magnificent performance of the Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 (1810-49) after intermission. Its four movements adhere more closely to classical sonata form than his Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. Its atmosphere is intimate and darkly sad. Schein held the piece together, carefully gauging each section's place within the whole work. The melodic and rhythmic themes of the first movement were beautifully contrasted. The yearning quality of the trio within the Scherzo was delineated perfectly. She spun out the singing line of the largo seamlessly and brought the audience to its feet with her vivid and vigorous playing of the finale. Repeated curtain calls were repaid with Chopin's No. 2 Étude in A-Flat from Trios Nouvelles Études, published posthumously.