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Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5 - Minnaar / de Vriend

Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5 - Minnaar / de Vriend

Challenge Classics  CC 72672

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos 4 & 5

Hannes Minnaar, piano
The Netherlands Symphony Orchestra
Jan Willem de Vriend


Beethoven wrote five concertos for piano and orchestra. It doesn’t sound like much; his near-contemporary Mozart composed 27. But although it may be a bit smaller, Beethoven’s contribution is a true monument in the history of music. He used the first two concertos to move away from his example, Mozart (whose last piano concerto was from 1791, while Beethoven completed his first in 1795); in Concerto no. 3 Beethoven carved out new dimensions for the genre’s dramatic possibilities. And Concertos nos 4 and 5 have proved to be unmatched in their genre: the radiant Concerto no. 4 is worshipped by experts and aficionados alike, while no. 5 is the all-time favourite of the public at large. Almost 25 years passed between Beethoven’s first sketches for a piano concerto and the double line he drew under his last one. His piano concertos thus show a development covering more than half of the composer’s life.

This CD brings the last two concertos together. When you hear them, you cannot help but find it unfortunate that his Piano Concerto no. 6 (in D major, 1815) never got beyond the sketch stage. The solo concerto is absent in Beethoven’s final creative period. But if you are still hungry for more, more is to be found: there is a quite pleasant piano concerto composed when he was fourteen, and when his magnificent Violin Concerto was not appreciated by his contemporaries, he turned it into a piece for piano and orchestra.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 30, 2016

There isn’t any shortage of Beethoven piano concerti on disk; even in Super Audio there are 21 ‘Emperors’ to choose from. Many have collected high scores, though performers approach them often from quite different angles. Some tend to forget that the most important part is the composer’s. Unlikely to be bettered. Much easier is it to spoil things by trying to stand out from the crowd with quirky mannerisms or excessive tempi (either way). Best is to play Beethoven as it’s indicated in the score. That’s precisely what Hannes Minnaar is doing. Middle of the road? In my view his’ ís the road.

For those less familiar with his name: Minnaar is an up and coming pianist from Holland, 3rd laureate at the 2010 ‘Concours Reine Elisabeth’, Brussels, and gaining in prominence in Europe & beyond ever since. His style may perhaps best be characterized as sensitively romantic, musically inventive, with much tonal beauty and fluent precision. It’s illustrative that for the finals he chose to play Saint-Saëns’ mysterious and exotic fifth piano concerto, rather than such war horses as Rachmaninov or Tchaikovsky. Then what are his credentials when it comes to Beethoven? Hannes Minnaar studied at the Conservatory of Amsterdam. He was a pupil of Jan Wijn, who directed him towards traditional repertoire. Aged 17, he already played Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto with the Symphony Orchestra of the Amsterdam Conservatory under the baton of Frans Brüggen.

What makes this recording furthermore so special, is the stimulating input of Jan Willem de Vriend and his Netherlands Symphony Orchestra. De Vriend comes from the HIP scene (Combattimento Consort Amsterdam). When he became Chief Conductor he remodeled this orchestra into a hybrid band, replacing the brass with period instruments and using sticks for the tympani, thus creating its own, typical sound for 18th and 19th century repertoire.

Taking the individual characteristics of Soloist, Orchestra and ‘Chef’ together we have all the ingredients for playing Beethoven as it should be, nothing more, nothing less, with 19th century orchestral sound and a piano tailored to perfection. A glowing example of how to shape in unison a memorable musical experience; participating as equals in creating a monumental edifice called ‘Ludwig van Beethoven’.

Power play doesn’t seem to be Minnaar’s trade; his ‘power’ comes from well-chosen accentuation and subtle shifting from piano to forte; here adequately supported and, where needed, intensified by de Vriend. His orchestra’s contribution should not be under estimated and the beginning of both concerti gives them ample opportunity to show their cards: Marvelously precise strings and joyful shining brass.

Both Minnaar and de Vriend resist the temptation to exaggerate the dramatic converse between piano and orchestra in the second movement of the fourth, whereas Minnaar shows his sensitive and exquisite pianism in the second movement of the fifth, beautifully shaped and stylishly accompanied by de Vriend. It sounds as though the notes stream unhindered from the brain through the arms to the keyboard.

The final movement of the Emperor is simply glorious, complete with roaring brass and rattling tympani, be it that I do realize that not everyone may be as thrilled as I.

There is one thing which strikes at first hearing as odd: The cadenza in the first movement of the 4th piano concerto. It’s not the usual one and the booklet doesn’t say whose it is. I suspect Minnaar is the inventor. But it is in keeping with the traditional requirement that material of the movement in question be used. Minnaar does so with much panache and lucidity.

The recording is up to the very high standard of Bert van der Wolf’s NorthStar Recording Services. You won’t miss a thing, including the dying out of soundboard of the grand at the end of the outer movements in both concerti.

This first Volume of the projected complete set is now my favourite for no’s 4 and 5, and I’m looking forward with much anticipation to the next.

Blangy-le-Château
Normandy, France

Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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