Tuesday evening in Leverett House
Geoffrey Hellman's recital Tuesday evening in Leverett House could not be described as less than unshakably solid. In his debut in the Cambridge musical community, Hellman '65 played four major works for piano. He used his technique in the best possible way; to open up the riches of the musical substance. His performance revealed a thoughtfulness and serious understanding that made the evening a quite joy.
Warmed up by the opening Bach Partita No. 5 (G major), Hellman played Beethoven's Sonata Op. 78 with delightful clarity. This oddly structured little sonata has two movements, both allegro, preceded by four measures of 'adagio cantabile.' The harmonies and motives of these four measures contain the thematic material of the following two movements in embryonic form. Hellman saw to it that those materials flowered. Judging Beethoven's instruction, 'Allegro ma non troppo' aright, he chose a properly delberate tempo, then, at the appropriate spots, took liberties with it. In the second movement, he went beyond the bounds of loud and soft which had dulled the Bach, and nicely exploited the drama of (i.e., hammed up) the ending.
The Bartok Suite Op. 14 also did not lack spirit and whimsy. When violence was in order, as in the 'Scherzo,' Hellman supplied it. In the concluding 'Sostenuto,' he gleefully intercalated a grotesque, ponderous obbligato, while reviving the lyricism which so finely sculptured the Sarabande in the Bach.
The vigor and accuracy of the concluding two movements of Schumann's Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 22, however, were the evening's technical highpoint. In the Scherzo (Molto presto marcato). Hellman maintained a push, a drive, which testified to real stamina. The final Rondo (Presto) alternated diving attacks with lyric interludes, and Hellman polished off the sonata with, as ever, controlled, smooth strength.
Though Mr. Hellman's performance was afflicted with too loud a bass all the way through, we prefer to blame the piano. And if his left hand was occasionally muddy, one may say quite happily that Mr. Hellman is not a virtuoso, but a musician. The bobby-soxers who swooned at the concerts of Franz Liszt would have to go elsewhere for chills and thrills, but anyone looking for a pianist with wit, in the classic sense, should hear Mr. Hellman at the next opportunity.