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Mikhashoff Plays 'Machine Age' Music

August 28, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

Retrospectives often can embarrass us with an awareness of how easily we forget and neglect substantive works of real force and imagination. The first Bing Concert of the 1987-88 season, at the County Museum of Art on Wednesday, promised to do just that.

But if Yvar Mikhashoff's survey of piano pieces complementing the "Machine Age in America 1918-1941" exhibit at the museum was representative, the era had little to offer but wind-up toys--quaint curiosities dusted off to amuse visitors.

Mikhashoff shunned big works in favor of a series of miniatures, most of them more concerned with assimilating or parodying popular styles than with matters mechanical. Works with player piano or juke-box connections by Zez Confrey, Copland, and Henry Brant all fell into that category.

Leo Ornstein's breezy "Afternoon in Chinatown" ("A la Chinoise") and George Antheil's severely compact Sonata "Death of the Machines" fit the theme better, and provided more comprehensive interpretive challenges. Mikhashoff worked persuasively in an Ives set--Three Improvisations and "The New River," the latter transcribed by Mikhashoff.

The American pianist proved soft-spoken in his introductions, clearheaded and emphatic in his playing. Transcriptions of two Studies by Conlon Nancarrow--Nos. 15 and 3d, originally for player piano--stressed digital strength and agility.

Nancarrow's recent, multilayered "Tango?" rewarded the listener more than his early, heavy-handed "Prelude and Blues." Cage's "Spontaneous Earth" for prepared piano, and three vapidly impressionistic Nocturnes by one James Sellars, anno 1981, completed the printed program.

Sedate but sustained applause brought Mikhashoff out for one encore, Argentine Alberto Ginastera's "Creole Dance."

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