My formal introduction to composer/pianist Robert Helps was a decidedly strange one. Temporarily without a practice piano, I would spend time in a rehearsal hall at the University of South Florida where there was a Yamaha Grand. On a number of occasions, I looked up to find a bearded, quizzical face peering in at me from the small window set in the hall's door. Robert Helps had been listening to me.
I, in turn, began to listen to him. I'd heard of Robert Helps. But it wasn't until I met him that I became familiar with his work, which constituted an enormous range of playing, teaching, accompaniment and composition.
“Shall We Dance/Piano Quartet/Postlude/Nocturne” displays a number of facets of this range. The album is framed by two samples of Helps'immaculate, deeply nuanced piano playing. His own composition “Shall We Dance” is a stately, melodic introduction, reminiscent of the work of Roger Sessions — one of Helps'mentors. The album's finale “The Darkened Valley” is an exquisitely played meditation by British composer John Ireland, whose work Helps had long championed.
The interior of the album consists of the five-part “Piano Quartet” and two shorter works. Shades of Ives, Carter, and Sessions, all American composers born in the Northeast, are evident. (Helps, from New Jersey, was a quintessentially East Coast American composer.) These combine with the influences of Stravinsky and even Ravel and Poulenc.
“Shall We Dance/Piano Quartet/Postlude/Nocturne” is a program of modest, stately compositions combining intellect with unabashed emotionality to provide a richly satisfying listening experience.