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Hannes Minnaar Asserts Ownership of the Beethoven Concerto with his Sublime Playing

25 October 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven, Challenge Classics, Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3

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Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3, premiered in 1803, fulfills the classical concerto model set up chiefly by Mozart, but also pushes out the form’s emotional and dramatic boat into the stormy waters of early romanticism. It is a perennial favourite with pianists and while never an overt virtuoso showpiece, its many challenges can nevertheless show off the soloist at his or her finest.

This is the third volume in the Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar’s series of all the Beethoven concertos; if this one stands alone, it is only because the others fall into two neat pairs on either side. A tremendously gifted and sympathetic musician, Minnaar has made a strong impression in a range of repertoire, from sterling-quality chamber music to three solo discs including repertoire such as Bach transcriptions and the works of Fauré.

He asserts ownership of the concerto upon his first entry, which is well matched to the strong, measured opening provided by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra under de Vriend. There’s intense focus and purpose, but also a well-judged, indeed well-tempered manner. He has a beautifully expressive tone and a conversational style that balances intellect with good humour. Also, he seems comfortable enough with the solo part to play around with it a bit – for instance, there are some rolled chords that usually are not – but that’s not out of keeping with the music, since in Beethoven’s day soloists would probably not have thought twice about such embellishments…and the original soloist was the composer himself, who hadn’t even had time to finish writing the thing down.

The liveliness and fine nuance of Minnaar’s playing is not always entirely matched by the orchestra: its playing is perfectly decent, leaning towards the period-style-lite in style with slenderised strings and accepted (though arguably not always desirable) performance-practice mores dutifully in place, like tapered-off phrasing and bulging long notes – but one sometimes wishes it could ignite a little more of the work’s inherent visceral drama. Minnaar’s excellent performance merits a truly inspired partner.

Performance: four stars
Sound: four stars

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3
Hannes Minnaar (piano), Netherlands Symphony Orchestra, Jan Willem de Vriend (conductor)
Challenge Classics CC72715

Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3


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