Hannes Minnaar. Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. 20 November 2022. 5*****. William Ruff


Hannes Minnaar, piano

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

November 20 2022


Review: William Ruff


Dazzling pianism in Hannes Minnaar’s night-themed programme

If in doubt about where to sit for a Sunday morning piano recital, always aim for the left-hand side of the auditorium near the front.  The reason?  So that you can see the keyboard and the pianist’s hands.  For Hannes Minnaar’s recital this was the only place to be, especially for the last piece he played: Scarbo from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

It depicts the fear generated by an evil dwarf who appears in the dead of night.  It is astonishingly difficult to play: deliberately so because its mosaic-like construction of fragments crystallises the terror of something briefly glimpsed rather than understood.  Ravel’s music is full of rapidly repeated notes and jagged, sometimes violent dissonance.  It also calls for highly advanced piano techniques (lots of crossing of hands and nearly colliding fingers, for instance) to create an atmosphere that is psychotically frenetic and bizarre.  It was a breath-taking way to end the recital.

However, there was much to admire before that.  The first two movements of Gaspard were differently impressive.  The opening Ondine depicts a water spirit and her music really has to shimmer.  Hannes Minnaar created an exquisitely textured world, one that hinted at darkness and danger beneath the glittering surface.  And in Le Gibet he relished the music’s creepy subject matter: the swinging of a corpse hanging from the gallows, the image embedded into the audience’s imagination by music of unsettling quiet and insistence.

Wisely Hannes left the Ravel till last – as nothing could possibly follow it.  He chose to open his recital with Night Pieces by Robert Schumann and in doing so firmly established his theme: music of the night.  His playing was full of atmosphere and vivid story-telling, especially in the opening Funeral Procession whose imagery is of a cortege advancing with hesitant steps, almost as if it had started out of earshot.  During the course of the piece it draws gradually nearer, until shortly before the end it is heard fortissimo, after which the procession recedes once more into the distance.  Throughout Schumann’s cycle Hannes created a vivid sense of drama, his virtuosity clearly at the service of the composer’s imagination.

Three evocative movements from Robert Zuldam’s Nox were sandwiched between the Schumann and Ravel.  Nox was specially written for Hannes who told the audience that (very appropriately) he would sometimes receive the composer’s emailed ideas in the middle of the night.  The descriptive titles for each movement were added later, probably absent from the composer’s mind whilst writing the piece but highly appropriate nevertheless.  The final movement, Perseids Passing, conjures up vivid images of a meteor shower cascading through the early August sky. 

Like everything else in Hannes’ unusually constructed programme it received a performance of great refinement and precision, engaging not only the audience’s ears but their nocturnal imaginations too.

Hannes Minnaar performing in the Sunday morning Piano Series at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall

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