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Rachmaninov: Sonata No 1; Ravel: Sonatine, Miroirs / Hannes Minnaar

Release Date: 02/14/2012 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 1432  
Composer:  Sergei RachmaninovMaurice Ravel
Performer:  Hannes Minnaar
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Serious piano collectors...and lovers of Rachmaninoff’s music, as well as those willing to be convinced of the greatness of this sonata, won’t want to miss this CD. A most auspicious debut.

RACHMANINOFF Piano Sonata No. 1. RAVEL Sonatine. Miroirs Hannes Minnaar (pn) ET’CETERA KTC 1432 (78:59)

This is the first recording by Hannes Minnaar, a young Dutch pianist who has won prizes at Read more the Queen Elisabeth (Brussels) and Geneva competitions and is currently a recipient of a fellowship from the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, which encourages and sponsors promising young musicians. From the evidence presented here, Minnaar certainly is that; this is a most impressive recital.

It’s easy to hear why Minnaar has been successful in competitions. He has a prodigious technique, and a big, effortless-sounding tone that brings to mind the young Van Cliburn. Whether in the Rachmaninoff’s fistfuls of notes, the arpeggios of Une Barque sur l’océan , or the repeated notes and the famous double glissandos of Alborada del gracioso , Minnaar meets the formidable technical challenges of this music with no apparent strain. His music-making here is by no means simply execution, however; in the pellucid reading of Ravel’s Sonatine, for example, he displays a wonderful touch that results in beautifully clear textures, while not diminishing the overall romanticism of the reading.

The Rachmaninoff First Sonata was an inspired choice for this debut CD. It has not attained anywhere near as secure a place in the repertoire as the considerably shorter Second, partly no doubt because of its length and difficulty, and partly as a reflection of the more rewarding sort of pianism that characterizes the Second. The First is, however, the greater composition from a purely musical point of view. Minnaar surmounts this work’s great technical and musical challenges, revealing the sonata as the masterpiece that it is. Tempos are on the fast side, but never sound rushed, and Rachmaninoff’s complex textures are almost always elucidated, with inner voices brought out clearly if not always subtly. In the development section of the first movement and the conclusion of the third Minnaar produces an almost impossible amount of sound. Only the second movement could be more languid, and in the finale’s touchstone molto espressivo hand-crossing passage—about a third of the way through the movement—the alternating A?-B? figure could be brought out more.

Only two years separate the composition of Rachmaninoff’s sonata and Ravel’s Miroirs , but the two works inhabit completely different sound worlds. Here Minnaar displays a remarkable range: of color, of dynamics, and of expression. As in the other two works, he shows an ability to clarify complex textures and to delineate individual voices within those textures, as well as an ability to produce a sensitive touch where it is called for, and a massive amount of sound where appropriate.

In the Rachmaninoff, I marginally prefer only the recording—also a debut CD—by the Scottish pianist Martin Cousin on SOMM ( Fanfare 30: 2); it has most of the virtues of Minnaar’s performance, and slightly more relaxed tempos throughout. I have not reviewed other versions of the Ravel works, but a quick look at the online Fanfare Archive shows several versions of Miroirs that have been Want-Listed by my colleagues: those of Frederic Chiù, Herbert Schuch, and André Laplante. Serious piano collectors, however, and lovers of Rachmaninoff’s music—as well as those willing to be convinced of the greatness of this sonata—won’t want to miss this CD. A most auspicious debut.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Piano no 1 in D minor, Op. 28 by Sergei Rachmaninov
Performer:  Hannes Minnaar (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907; Russia 
Sonatine for Piano by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Hannes Minnaar (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903-1905; France 
Miroirs by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Hannes Minnaar (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1905; France 

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