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Robert HELPS (1928-2001)
Shall We Dance for piano (1994)*
Piano Quartet (1997)
Postlude for horn, violin and piano (1964)
Nocturne for string quartet (1960)+
John IRELAND (1879-1962)

The Darkened Valley (c.1919)*
Robert Helps (piano) *
Janine Jansen (violin)
Quinten de Roos (violin)
Ronald Carbone (viola) + replacing Rohde
Hartmut Rohde (viola)
Frank S. Dodge (cello)
Ron Schaaper (horn)
Daniel Blumenthal (piano)
Recorded in the Kammermusiksaal der Philharmonie, Berlin, live (except Piano Quartet and Nocturne) between 2000 and 2003
NAXOS 8.559199 [58.04]

 

Helps was a composition student of Sessions and also a very able pianist who worked with such as Copland, Rudolf Kolisch and Isidore Cohen, amongst many. Active as a teacher in University of South Florida and San Francisco Conservatory, he continued to propagate chamber and solo literature and made numerous recordings. He gave solo memorial concerts for Sessions and a solo recital at Town Hall, New York – which gives one an appreciation of his standing as an executant. As a pendant he had a particular affection and admiration for the music of John Ireland and indeed this disc ends evocatively with an example of Helps playing the English composer’s The Darkened Valley.

Shall We Dance (1994) fuses impressionism with a layered density and grows to an impassioned climax; the composer noted that it embedded a waltz written by Mischa Levitzki, one that he heard his mother play often. There’s a similar sense of allusiveness and power in the five-movement Piano Quartet written three years later. The sketch provided by Helps gives an indication of the summoned moods (Radiance, Intimacy and a humorous coda titled Players’ Gossip). It’s certainly true that the elliptical piano writing gives way to increased insistence in the opening movement and one notable feature is the role for the oratorical solo piano, which opens the fourth movement solo until joined some time later by his string confreres. Perhaps the most immediately striking however are the Postlude for horn, violin and piano and the Nocturne for string quartet. The former is intense with some frantic high register writing and an implacable sounding horn. The latter is more sepulchral and forms part of the central panel of a Serenade. Once more one can hear Helps’ fondness for high register writing – especially for the violin – and his well crafted control of sonority. The Ireland is a wistful tribute from one composer to another.

The performances are thoroughly committed. Rising star, Dutch fiddler Janine Jansen is here and Daniel Blumenthal takes on the piano parts with great conviction. His Krenek, elsewhere, is equally successful. The recording balance is good, the notes a fusion of those by the composer and the cellist here, Frank Dodge.

Jonathan Woolf

John Ireland



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