Schein spellbinding in Chopin Sonata, Schubert ‘Wanderer’ |

Schein spellbinding in Chopin Sonata, Schubert ‘Wanderer’

Harvey Steiman
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Ann Schein, an Aspen Music Festival faculty artist favorite, delivered a spellbinding piano recital Wednesday in Harris Hall that included Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy and Chopin’s Sonata in B minor. She did nothing flashy but instead built shining edifices of sound based on musical intelligence.

What was so compelling about her work was the inevitability of the music’s unfolding. It just grew like a living thing.

Once a student of Arthur Rubinstein and Myra Hess, she has been on the Aspen faculty since 1984 and taught at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, but has not pursued the international career a musician of this caliber could have had. All the better for music fans here who treasure her work and get to hear her often in chamber music.

She opened with nicely detailed performances of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasy in A-flat major and two of Schubert’s Impromptus, but the centerpieces of the evening came just before and after intermission. The Schubert fantasy, a sonata in all but name, built in intensity from a simple beginning.

Schein gets a big sound from the piano without overdoing it, and her fleet articulation in rapid passagework never seems designed to show off, just build intensity for the next idea. This was especially apparent in the Chopin sonata, which replaced the B-flat minor sonata listed in the program without explanation. It can blaze away in the rapid-fire scherzo and Presto finale that surrounds a funeral march. Under Schein’s fingers, those black-dotted pages smoldered with contained fire.

It was quite a contrast with Yefim Bronfman’s work in Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 the previous evening in Harris Hall. Bronfman, Gil Shaham and Lynn Harrell were like thoroughbreds gnawing on the bit, waiting for the gate to open so they could gallop through the loud bits. Though it missed some of the finer nuances of the composer’s writing, and in truth violated some of the cardinal rules of chamber music playing, the result was simply irresistible.

Ideally, chamber music unites a team of musicians into a single purpose, a single approach. In this performance, they shared a unified approach to rhythm, but very different sounds.

Pianist Bronfman pounded loud whenever he could, often dominating the proceedings at the expense of his colleagues. In the scherzo, for example, his thunderous chords obscured the sly, fast crescendos Shostakovich wrote for the strings. Harrell, by contrast, sacrificed a big sound to rhythmic bite. His cello sounded scratchy and hoarse, as if it had a cold. And yet he played the gossamer-fine harmonics that open the work with marvelous finesse, creating some much-needed mystery and wonder.

Shaham played the violin part like a man possessed, using a rich, almost trumpet-like sound in the loud parts to match Bronfman’s, but finding a jewel box of details from exquisite to sardonic to shape one phrase after another. It was astonishing work.

When Bronfman pulled back in the finale to get the Klezmer dance rhythm started gently, they caught a beat that never flagged, and propelled the music to a huge climax. The final sighs, with soft references to the opening harmonics in both cello and violin, brought matters to a satisfying close.

The first half of that concert offered the new Piano Trio by composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie. Billed as a Western U.S. premiere, the 18-minute piece starts with Bronfman playing repeated double octaves, loud of course. The strings answer with their own octaves, but a half step apart from the piano’s. Matters continue in opposition until the music finally gets all three on the same page, so to speak. It diverges and returns again.

It has plenty of rhythm, and the melodic and harmonic ideas rely strongly on scales and arpeggios, and much of the audience found it accessible. The loud playing got an enthusiastic reaction. In the opener, the trio lumbered through Mozart’s Piano Trio in C major. Clearly their hearts were in the more modern music this time.

The highlight of Monday night’s chamber music featuring faculty artists was Faure’s Piano Quartet No. 2, played with vigor and true French refinement by violinist Paul Kantor, violist James Dunham, cellist Michael Mermagen and pianist Anton Nel. Joaquin Valdepenas seemed physically ill at ease in Weinberg’s Clarinet Sonata, although he played with his usual tonal beauty.

Keyboard fanciers won’t want to miss Anton Nel playing the Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 30 in Harris Hall Friday afternoon at 4:45 prior to the 6 p.m. Chamber Orchestra concert, when Yefim Bronfman gets to attack Prokofiev’s high-intensity Piano Concerto No. 3. David Zinman conducts. Nadja Salerno-Sonnenburg is the violin protagonist Sunday in music of Astor Piazzola. Leonid Desyatnikov’s arrangement of the Argentinian composer’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires slips in sly references to Vivaldi’s famous work for violin and string orchestra.

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