Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar brought a night-themed programme to Nottingham's Sunday morning piano series - Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 20 November 2022. With bright sunshine outside, programme manager Neil Bennison, in his spoken introduction, encouraged us to enjoy the contradiction.
Robert Schumann's Nachtstücke comprise four atmospheric, even spooky, pieces, exploring a wider expressive range than that suggests. Minnaar made the rhythmic figures of the opening and closing sections of No 1 clipped and precise, switching to a rushing torrent in the second piece, pointing up moments of lighter tone, and touching in without exaggeration the many hesitations Schumann indicated. No 3 is even more vigorous, but Minnaar was also alert to the note of melancholy in the middle section, played with considerable clarity. The sombre, quiet ending of the final piece came off with just the right degree of artlessness.
Nox is a set of five nocturnes that Minnaar commissioned from the Dutch composer Robert Zuidam in 2020. He played three on this occasion, capturing the agitated mood of No 2, 'Insomnia', and a shimmering, dancing quality to No 3, 'L'Heure Bleu', evoking the hour after sunset. No 5, 'Perseids Passing', takes its name from the meteor shower that occurs in late July and early August every year. Minnaar balanced the slow, steady motion in the bass against the sprays of notes that shoot across the treble end of the keyboard, but however complex, the writing never seemed cluttered.
There was more shimmer in 'Ondine', the first of the three pieces making up Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, and more melancholy. For all its glitter, Minnaar also responded well to Ravel's implied characterisation of the water-nymph as a forlorn figure. In 'Le Gibet', with its lurid scene of a corpse swinging from a gallows in the setting sun, he kept the repeated tolling in the middle of the keyboard as a neutral backdrop to the foreground material, creating a mesmerising atmosphere. 'Scarbo' was positively Mephistophelian in Minnaar's hands. Playing with both atmosphere and precision, particularly in the nervy repeated-note figures, he was more than equal to Ravel's on-the-edge virtuosity.
Copyright © 15 December 2022