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Donald Rosenberg
Gramophone, April 2012

Both of Robert Helps’s formidable artistic gifts are represented on this revealing two-disc collection. There’s the composer of piquant and poetic chamber music, and there’s the pianist who gave supple life to his own works, as well as pieces by other composers. These complementary aspects paint a portrait of a bold musician with the facility to transform and illuminate in myriad styles. …his immersion in the past also can be heard on this collection in shapely and eloquent live performances…

…Helps was no imitator…the music is always suffused with distinctive clarity, vehemence and pensive drama …meticulously detailed performances by the ATOS Trio and an array of splendid colleagues. © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone



Byzantion
MusicWeb International, March 2012

Helps’ chamber music is generally introspective, concise, unhurried, often frigid, a paragon of clarity and coherence that is indebted to his teachers Roger Sessions and—almost inevitably!—Nadia Boulanger. Despite Helps’ eschewal of the arcana of modernism, these works make clear that he was not averse to atonality or impressionism, but it is always lightly worn, contextualised and measured. The music is often Schoenbergian in feel, but also reminiscent of other composers straddling modernism and neo-tonality…

In all there are about ninety minutes of Helps as composer, and thirty-five as pianist. Slightly curiously, Naxos’s only previous issue of Helps’s music (review) featured three of the works repeated here—the Postlude, Quintet and Shall We Dance?—albeit in different recordings. The opening two works, the Postlude and the Fantasy, are companion pieces to the Nocturne featured on that disc, in that together they constitute the three parts of a Serenade, the movements’ stand-alone performance sanctioned by Helps.

At the piano Helps will appeal to a much fuller audience, as he plays some of his favourite pieces, exhibiting the marvellous technique, power and expressiveness he was renowned for in his time, not to mention his Godowskian skill as a transcriber in the Mendelssohn and Ireland. If there are more recordings available to Naxos, Helps as pianist surely merits its own separate release. His own work, Shall We Dance, is not the flippant MGM-derived piece the title suggests, but a serious, complex, yet still understated work, subtle and almost tuneful, based on a ‘degenerative’ idea akin to Ravel’s La Valse. Fittingly, the disc ends with a piece by John Ireland, another deeply respected figure who has yet to achieve the wider recognition his genius deserves.

This is now Spectrum Concerts Berlin’s seventh recording for Naxos under cellist/founder Frank Dodge, and they continue to impress. The German ATOS Trio, who some will recognise as BBC Radio 3 ‘New Generation Artists’, make their debut, red-blooded and cohesive in the Trios. So does Japanese-American pianist Naomi Niskala…

Sound quality is very good in the chamber recordings. The English-German notes are surprisingly lengthy for Naxos, as well as informative and stylishly written. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review



Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, January 2012

[Robert Helps’] music, dissonant with tonal moments, is finely wrought and holds the listener’s interest. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide online



Infodad.com, October 2011

… the new two-CD Naxos set of his complete chamber works for strings or winds with piano will be welcomed by those who enjoy Helps’ sonic world…the second CD…showcase nearly all the styles and influences informing Helps’ career. They are offered on a CD that also contains more than half an hour of Helps’ own piano playing—not only of his own work but also of pieces by Mendelssohn, Ireland, Poulenc and Godowsky. These live recordings…show Helps to have been not only a considerable pianist but also a composer quite familiar with and attuned to the works of earlier times, whether he chose to absorb their lessons or discard them.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2011

Born in New Jersey in 1928, Robert Helps earned his living as a concert pianist and as a teacher at a number of America’s leading music colleges. That fact gave him the feeling of independence that allowed him to compose in any way that pleased him. To many that gave him the status of a ‘maverick’ composer, though history will show that he was ploughing his own furrow in the hope that others would come to accept his style as a part of music development in the States. Yet read the words of other more recent composers who describe him as the creator of ‘coolly tonal marvels’ and you gather how the pure atonality of his works is now seen in different terms. Much of his chamber music involves the piano, and performers comment that, coming from a pianist, he has written without much regard to pianistic convention. Postlude for horn and piano is an easy entry point, you might, at this point think of Benjamin Britten. That represents one of two pieces from the 1960’s before we jump to 1997 for the Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet. While the former includes the conventional string trio, the Quintet calls for violin, cello, flute and clarinet. At first hearing they didn’t grip me, but they grow on you, so stick with them. Though continuous, the Duo for cello and piano is in three movements, the language atonal and strange to my ears. Forty three years separate the two Trios for violin, cello and piano, though they are much in the same tonal/atonal mould, the final Toccata of the second Trio being particularly attractive. It is good to be reminded of Helps as an outstanding pianist with excerpts from two concerts given in Berlin in 1997 and 2000. In addition to beautifully played works by Mendelssohn, Ireland, Poulenc and Godowsky, he plays Shall We Dance, one of his best known piano scores. Sound quality throughout is good.






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9:45:31 AM, 30 July 2014
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