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MUSIC REVIEWS : Pianist Helffer Offers Uncompromising Program of Serialism

November 01, 1995|JOSEF WOODARD

When the veteran pianist Claude Helffer performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Monday Evening Concert series, scarcely a triad or a romantic gesture was heard all evening. A moratorium on sentimentality seemed to be in effect, as Helffer presented a surprisingly exhilarating program framed by Schoenberg piano works and featuring music by lesser-known composers from the serialist Second Viennese School.

Which is not at all to say that Helffer lacked dynamic and dramatic expressiveness. Exacting but unfailingly robust, Helffer amply disproved the stubborn myth that serialism is a lifeless, brainy experiment gone awry. Here was a cerebral celebration of mid-century modernism, rare and refreshing.

Hans Erich Apostel's "Kubiniana," Opus 13, the most playful work on the program, consists of 10 evocative miniatures, including a whimsical quasi-tango and rueful abstractions. Helffer also essayed works by relatively obscure composers Rene Leibowitz--a mentor of Helffer's--Egon Wellesz and Leopold Spinner, whose Sonatina, Opus 22 shivered with galvanic potency.

To close, Helffer plunged into the arctic and gentle intricacies of Schoenberg's Suite, Opus 25 with willing flesh and spirit, and a knowing hand. For an encore, he examined the first movement of Pierre Boulez's Third Sonata, its volatile contours neatly navigated.

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