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Meredith College's Chopin Bicentennial Series Featured Ann Schein's Insightful Interpretation

by William Thomas Walker

February 24, 2010, Raleigh, NC: Keyboard and Romantic period music lovers braved ominous weather forecasts to hear noted pianist Ann Schein recital as part of Meredith College's weeklong celebration of the Bicentennial of Frederic Chopin's birth. Schein, a student of Mieczyslaw Munz, Arthur Rubinstein, and Dame Myra Hess, is a renowned interpreter of Chopin and was featured on Meredith College's celebration of Mendelssohn and Chopin in 2005. She has appeared at Greensboro's Eastern Music Festival and on the Adams Foundation Series at Elon University in 2004 and 2008.

Addressing the Jones Auditorium audience from the stage before playing her selections, Schein said some of her critics say "the pianist talked too much," but her comments were germane to both her relationship to the pieces and to important aspects of Chopin as a composer and a performer. Her teacher gave her scores of her two Chopin selections when she was only 14 years old! She shared some of her insights into the emotional world of these two late works.

Of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61, Schein said it may come close to capturing a lost aspect of the composer, his unrivaled ability to improvise. She said contemporaries reported many of his "lost" improvisations far surpassed his published works. Schein perfectly captured the continuously unfolding melodic line and the piece's deeply introspective nature. Her subtle use of dynamics was perfectly judged.

Schein said Robert Schuman's Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, was composed during the composer's frustratingly long wait to get permission to marry his beloved Clara Wieck. It was meant to be an idealized "wedding gift" before their actual union. The title refers to Schumann's imaginary "League of David" which the composer used to express divergent views about art. The principal protagonists were two aspects of Schumann's personality which he personified as Florestan and Eusebius. The strongly contrasted eighteen pieces are divided between two books. The nine characteristic dances of Book I range from an opening mazurka/waltz, a melancholy Ländler, marches, and includes a relentless Tarentella, interspersed with gentle episodes. No. 3 is marked "Mit Humor" which the composer wrote "involve(es) the happy union of easy-going cheerfulness and wit." Schumann, in his guise as Florestan adds the piece should be played "Etwas hahnbüchen" ("Rather cockeyed")! Book II is a wildly contrasted with slow pieces setting off humorous or playful sections or a wild polka. The eighteenth section is a poetic reverie, ending in three magical bell-like notes. Schein's performance was breathtaking. Her melding of tonal color, refined dynamics, and rhythmic precision conjured up the wild sound-world of Schumann.

Schein's insightful and superb interpretation of Chopin's Sonata in B minor, Op. 58, ended the formal concert. Each of its four movements were beautifully characterized, not least the endless song line of the slow Largo of the third movement. Her articulation was clear no matter the tempo.

Most impressive was her ability to fit the diversity of the four movements within an over-arching conception of the sonata as a whole. The audience's warm enthusiasm was rewarded with an A-Flat Étude, one of Chopin's posthumously published works.

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