Ann Schein's Simply Grand Piano

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Thank heaven for Ann Schein. With all the mane-tossing, keyboard-splintering wunderkinder cluttering up concert halls these days, what a relief it is to hear a pianist who, with no fuss or muss, simply reaches right into the heart of whatever she's playing -- and creates music so powerful you cannot tear yourself away.

And that was what Schein (with a superb company of musicians) did at the German Embassy on Monday night as part of this season's Embassy Series. The program opened with a chamber version of Mozart's Piano Concerto in A, K. 414, in which Schein was joined by Peter Sirotin and Claudia Chudacoff on violin, Michael Stepniak on viola and Thomas Kraines on cello. But this was not some anemic cousin of the full-orchestra version; Schein and company rolled up their sleeves and unleashed a riveting, richly nuanced account with a sweeping sense of line.

It was a breathtaking performance, and Schein followed it with more wonders: two of Franz Schubert's "Impromptus," from Op. 90. It's easy to get lost in the improvisatory mists of these works, but in Schein's hands they unfolded with powerful, clear-eyed logic -- while smoldering dangerously underneath.

Fine as all this was, the evening built to an even greater climax with Robert Schumann's fascinating "Dichterliebe" song cycle, given a beautifully detailed and sensitive reading by baritone Jerome Barry.

One of the area's most accomplished singers, Barry clearly had no fear of Schumann's perilous emotional terrain; he sang with beauty and deep conviction.

-- Stephen Brookes

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