Reviews

December 11, 2015
The Virginia Gazette
by John Shulson

“As a respite from the glow of candlelight and carols throughout town, the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg presented the Boston Piano Trio in Tuesday’s Williamsburg Library Theatre program. The Boston boasts a perfectly assembled membership. Irina Muresanu, violin, Astrid Schween, cello, and Heng-Jin Park, piano, have significant individual international credentials that superbly align with the intimate and collaborative demands of a trio.

Their composite sound was rich and rewarding, absolutely balanced, and technically tops. The interplay among them was evident in heightened sensitivities, polished playing, and a feeling that they really do enjoy playing with each other.

To Mozart’s opening Piano Trio in C Major, the Boston brought lightness and delicacy that highlighted the work’s structure and to Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C Minor, an effective balance between turbulence and calming lyricism.

However, the evening’s big moment was Debussy’s “La Mer,” as arranged by Sally Beamish. Debuted only two years ago, it was our distinct good fortune to hear such a brilliantly conceived and performed piece. Beamish undertook the daunting task of arranging the iconic orchestral “La Mer,” with its vast paletteMusic of impressionistic colors and surging themes, for a piano trio. However, she did it.

The full sweep and scope of the large orchestral piece was perfectly placed within score, the larger work’s emotions and visual qualities flourishing in the transformation. The excitement of hearing this “La Mer” was matched by watching the Boston play it. The trio masterfully and musically maneuvered the tricky and challenging score, giving it abundant physical and emotional dedication and attention. What a magical treat!”

 

September 22, 2015
The Boston Music Intelligencer
by Elisa Birdseye

“A more congenial concert than Boston Chamber Music Society 33rd season opener Sunday would be hard to imagine. Not only did it feature the kind of music for which the term “chamber music” seems to have been invented, but it also had the warm, intimate vibe and sonority of old friends gathering for an exquisite evening.

It hardly needs saying that the musicians of the BCMS are of the highest caliber, but their performance Sunday night was truly outstanding. They played together with ease and musicality, making the works as fresh and compelling as when they were first written.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Piano Trio in C Major, Hob. XV: 21 featuring Harumi Rhodes on violin, Astrid Schween on cello, and Max Levinson on piano. Haydn must have been a delight to have as a friend. His work is almost universally cheerful, and this piece was no exception. One should not mistake a friendly surface for lack of complexity, though, for that was equally present in the singing lullaby that was the 2nd movement, molto andante. Schween’s particularly smooth and elegant legato was shown to good effect in this work.”

February 18, 2012
Peninsula Reviews
by Lyn Bronson

“Often concert programs give us a full spectrum of musical styles. We hear something from the Baroque, followed by a nod of the hat to the Viennese classical period, something in the 19th century romantic style and finally an obligatory contemporary work from the 20th or 21st century.  On the other hand, we sometime hear artists whose programs avoid these conventions and suggest that the performers are proclaiming, “I am going to play a group of works I love and which sound great on my instrument.”

Such an artist is cellist Astrid Schween, Her appearance last night, presented by the Carmel Music Society at All Saints’ Church in Carmel, centered around two great masterpieces, Beethoven’s Piano and Cello Sonata in A major, Op. 69, and the César Franck Violin Sonata, arranged for cello by Delsart. Her ensemble partner in this concert was the distinguished pianist Randall Hodgkinson, an artist who appeared in Carmel some years ago with the Boston Chamber Players.

It was apparent in Ms. Schween’s performance of the Beethoven and Franck Sonatas that she loves the repertoire she was performing, and that she has the mastery and command of her instrument needed to make it sound its best. She produced lots of rich sound, dazzled us with her virtuosity and at times produced moments of such powerful intensity, especially in the more poignant moments of the Franck Sonata, that it brought a lump to our throat and tears to our eyes.

Randall Hodgkinson, an artist in his own right and an experienced chamber music player, played a vital role in the evening’s program. It should be mentioned in passing that these sonatas were originally written for “Piano and Cello” and “Piano and Violin,” thus the performers are equal ensemble partners. It might also be mentioned that the piano parts are especially demanding in the Beethoven sonata and even more so in the César Franck (so much so that some pianists routinely memorize the second and fourth movements of the Franck sonata). Hodgkinson proved himself to be a sensitive and respectful ensemble partner, sometimes, perhaps, even too respectful in moments where the piano is expected to be dominant.

However, by any standard, these were compelling performances of the Beethoven and Franck Sonatas that succeeded on many levels and received enthusiastic applause from the audience. The splendid acoustics of All Saints’ Church embellished and reinforced the power of these magnificent works.

Opening the program, we heard two works by Chopin seldom heard in explorations of the cello and piano repertoire. The “Introduction and Polonaise, Brillante. Op. 3, is characteristic of Chopin’s very early glittery style before he found his voice and produced the profound works for which he is so well known. The introduction to this work revealed some darkly effective moments that were an important omen for what was yet to come from his pen. The Nocturne in C-sharp minor, B, 49, is a work well known to pianists (and to violinists in a version arranged by Nathan Milstein), and I would venture that most members of the audience were hearing this Piatigorsky arrangement for cello for the first time.

In retrospect we have to say that this was a well-selected program that tickled our fancy and sent on its way after the concert more than one audience member humming themes from the Franck Sonata. This is what a concert should do — cause familiar works to come to life, charm us with terrific performances and send us away with a song in our hearts.”

Boston Music Intelligencer
July 3, 2011
by Cashman Kerr Prince

In the jewel-box of the Federated Church in Charlemont, Mass., evening sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows on Friday July 1, at the Mohawk Trail’s first concert of its forty-second season. This initial concert, its annual “music old and new,” combined a mini-recital with a new piece by Gordon Green and anniversary tributes to composers Liszt, Mahler, and Grainger.

Cellist Astrid Schween and pianist Estela Olevsky began with a selection of salon pieces: Élégie and La Lugubre Gondola by Franz Liszt, and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from the Rückert-Lieder by Mahler (transcribed for cello and piano by Gordon Green). The selection highlighted Schween’s intense ribbon of sound drawn from the cello, with a varied palette of tonal colors, wide range of dynamics, and her outstanding bow control. The vibrato varied to suit the musical character of each piece. Olevsky shared the array of dynamics and phrasing, making for a wonderful collaboration.

From this opening introspection the program moved into a lighter vein just as the evening light began to fade, with Beethoven’s Seven Variations on the Theme “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (WoO 46). Schween and Olevsky presented a delightful Mozartian lightness, giving way to the Sturm und Drang of Beethoven at the end of the seventh variation. This often-overlooked stylistic variation added a fresh quality to the variations and a nice contrast to the program’s opening salon-pieces while highlighting an aspect crucial to this music.

After a brief pause for equipment and personnel change, Schween returned with an electric Yamaha cello for Gordon Green’s Music for Electric Cello and Electronics (with the composer controlling the electronics from a stage-side mixing board). Schween described this four-movement work as one based on improvisation and compared the electronic accompaniment to playing with a phantom orchestra. The first movement is melismatic, the melody having some harmonic affinity with Eastern music. The second movement, introduced as having a “screechy bunch of texture” shows the influence of rock music, perhaps even the cello music of Apocalyptica, combined with the interplay of stopped and harmonic notes. The third movement is a soaring melody of aching beauty, the electronic accompaniment often recalling wind chimes. The finale, a fast movement, is a race to the finish, combining rhythmic and melodic elements and successfully drawing together the work as a whole. Overall the work is a very memorable, tuneful, and captivating piece recalling the astute combination of rhythm and melody found in the compositions of Hindemith.

In her introductory remarks, Schween had talked about acquiring the electric cello as a practice instrument but was surprised, and pleased, to learn that “an electric cello has a soul.” That soul was certainly on display in Green’s music in a very convincing way, and her playing makes a convincing case for the electric cello as a performance instrument; I only regret the thin, at times reedy, lower register (the nature of the instrument, I fear), which stands in stark contrast to the chocolate richness of the lower register of her acoustic cello.

APRIL 22, 2010
BCMS and Krista River take on Röntgen, Mozart, Mendelssohn with Lyricism and Character
by Peter Van Zandt Lane

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet in B-flat major provided the most consistent and polished performance of the evening. The Allegro vivace was tightly knit, filled with contrasting disposition to the Andante scherzando and convincingly portrayed by the animated performance of violinists Ida Levin and Harumi Rhodes. Cellist Astrid Schween shone beautifully in a gripping, dynamic performance of the Adagio e lento. Energetic and Vibrant, the Allegro molto vivace closed the performance with a persuasive climax. Again, this performance to emitted a new sense of vibrancy from an ensemble looking forward towards a new audience that demands a more energetic and visceral performance approach.

MARCH 30, 2010
None Dare Call It Juvenilia: BCMS at Sanders
by Vance R. Koven

The BCMS members and guests, Lucy Chapman, violin, Marcus Thompson, viola, Astrid Schween (of the Lark Quartet), cello, and Randall Hodgkinson, piano, gave this a fine, characterful, reading imbued with the Romantic, adolescent Weltschmerz it requires. We were especially impressed with Ms. Schween, who really dug in.

The next two Webern works were decidedly different. The Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, written in 1899 when Webern was 16, would make for lovely encore pieces (so would the Schoenberg), especially the first, with its charming tune (See? he could!). Ms. Schween’s tone was luscious; Mr. Hodgkinson, as ever, the perfect foil.

JANUARY 11, 2010
BCMS Musical Time Program Rattles New Decade
by Fred Bouchard

An imaginative leap leads us to Ravel, in summer along his rugged Basque coast, where chaotic storm forces crashing upon rocky fastnesses inspire his writing the sonorous, majestic Trio. Levin and cellist Astrid Schween gracefully limn the piano’s rumbling bass ostinati; summoning expressive fervor and dazzling synchronicity, they sweep all along in a triumphant processional and unison song praising Ge, Mother Earth. Here Hodgkinson’s prodigious piano etched Ravel’s powerful lines with a diamond-cutter’s precision, and anchored the keening strings with a deep and clear understanding.

MUSIC REVIEW
January 12, 2010
A winter festival explores time in music
by Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff
After intermission, cellist Astrid Schween joined for a forceful, high-energy account of Ravel’s Piano Trio.

Tuesday August 10, 2010
Sulzbach-Rosenberg, (Germany)
Captivating, Moving, Always Exciting

Also from Chopin’s pen is the Sonata for Cello and Piano, performed by Astrid Schween and Irena Portenko. From the first note, Astrid Schween succeeded in creating an emotional force, a passionate intensity, which immediately cast a spell. Equally powerful and flexible, the tone was warm and singing in all registers, while she coined the interpretation.

Remarkably, signaling her partner with simple gestures, she conveyed how the dynamic and harmonic changes would blossom. Here, both performers were in harmony with a big tone and virtuosic brilliance.

Strings Magazine, December 2006

“The Lark Quartet rocks the house with a tour-de-force performance…balanced by…Astrid Schween’s assured, silken cello, the Lark Quartet is a force-of-personality quartet, a force to be reckoned with.”

Idaho State Journal, Pocatello, Idaho Thursday November 30, 2006

“Renowned cellist, [Astrid Schween], wows the crowd at ISU’s Performing Arts Center.”

Door County Advocate, Wisconsin, Thursday August 4, 2005

“With amazing technique, Ms. Schween performed [The Elgar Cello Concerto] to perfection. In Ms. Schween’s hands, Elgar’s elegant phrasing was masterful.”

American Record Guide, Jan/Feb 2005, Vol.68 No.1, review of Brahms Clarinet Trio, Partita Records.

“This is a fantastic release, with performances at or near the top of the list. The sound is warm and rich, guaranteed to take the edge off the chilliest disposition. What jumps at you from the speaker is a tone that is almost palpable in its feeling. The performances are faultless, extraordinarily attuned to the romantic idiom and to Brahms’ personal permutations of it. I simply can’t think of any other recording, other than the one [of Bernard Rothlisberger] for the sonatas or the trio. Do search out this recording-it is outstanding.”

Washington Post, Tuesday, June 14, 1991

“So mellow was this playing-if a chinchilla could purr, it would sound like Astrid Schween’s cello…extraordinary musical ability.”

Main Post, Wuerzburg, Germany, June 25, 1996

“The fearsome cello solos were played with astonishing lightness.”

Los Angeles Times, Monday, October 2, 1989

“…demonstrated eloquent phrasing, a full and vibrant sound and sure-fingered control.”

The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Tuesday, February 18, 1997

“Lalo’s Cello Concerto was presented with technical command and musical warmth.”

Boston Globe, Friday, April 10, 1992

“Cellist Astrid Schween knows how to inflect with buoyancy and bite.”

The Maui News, Hawaii, March 4, 1994

“…the mournful sound of the cello moved some in the audience to tears.”