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In the summer of 2020 Hannes Minnaar performed the Goldberg Variations for a tour of large churches in the Dutch cities of Zwolle, Amsterdam, Breda, Naarden, Rotterdam and Groningen.
‘The musical richness and internal logic of the variations had kept me refreshed and grounded over the previous period when we faced the unexpected lockdown resulting from the global coronavirus pandemic. The opportunity to share this music turned the series of concerts into an emotional reunion with my audiences.
While I think of the Goldberg Variations as being one of Bach’s most secular works – shot through with musicianly and compositional virtuosity as it is – we sought our sanctuary in cathedral spaces for this tour. We took a beautiful, straight strung grand piano built by Chris Maene, with its characteristic transparent sound on the tour. The performances gained an almost ritual character in the wonderful acoustics and towering spaces inside these churches. I really wanted to incorporate something of that ‘feel’ in these recordings, which is why I chose De Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam as my recording studio.’
Gedanken zu Bach
‘Composer Daan Manneke composed a work especially for this tour, at my request, to serve as an anacrusis to the monument that is the Goldberg Variations. He entitled it Gedanken zu Bach with two subtitles – ‘Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig’ and ‘A.D. 2020’ – referring to the main source of inspiration and the unusual time when the piece was created.
The German hymn Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig, which sits at the heart of this work, was composed by the German poet-composer Michael Franck (1609-1667) in 1652. Bach used the chorale in his eponymous Cantata BWV 26, and his setting of the closing chorale from that Cantata is used in the third movement of Gedanken zu Bach. One can also hear distant echoes of John Dowland’s Flow my tears and Hans Leo Hassler’s Mein G’müt ist mir verwirret.
The work comprises six short movements but is intended as a continuous fantasia which flows, as it were, into the opening Aria of Bach’s variation cycle. During my tour, the work eventually found a wonderful position as an intermezzo between Variations 15 and 16, marking the two halves of Bach’s work (as explained in the booklet article by Albert Clement) and thus serving as a sort of hinge. Finally, the work can also be performed on its own, followed by Bach’s Aria on its own. This is how you will hear the work presented on the accompanying bonus CD.’
‘His superb finger independence helps vivify and characterize the contrapuntal writing at any tempo, abetted by varied articulations and imaginative yet discreet use of the sustain pedal. The pianist clearly enjoys modifying voicings, amplifying textures, and shifting accents on the repeats, not to mention unfettered and creative ornamentation.’Classics Today
‘It is superb. Minnaar’s performance has a natural flow. He draws the listener’s attention to interesting details while making the contrasting ideas proceed spontaneously and organically. This level of integration is hard to achieve.’American Record Guide
‘I particularly liked Minnaar’s way of differentiating between styles of variations and the care with which he treats each short and long note. The recording is excellent, highlighting every articulation and dynamic change. Minnaar holds this masterpiece together as a complete whole, and it will reveal itself more on repeated listening.’The Classic Review — Editor’s Choice October 2021
‘His sparing and purposeful use of pedal, coupled with straightforward agogics, lend the music on the modern grand piano a distinct authenticity. In the Manneke, too, Minnaar captivates with virtuosic and clear-cut pianism. An extremely interesting recording, which surprises the listener with new details.’PianoNews Germany 6/6*
‘Immaculate and serene music-making without the pursuit of effects and without dogma. Each of the thirty variations is given a clear profile, although Minnaar shuns extremes in dynamics and phrasing. God is in the details and in the nuance, while Minnaar’s grip on the architecture is unmistakable.’NRC 4/5*
‘The pianist is incredibly consistent in his approach and his tempi; fluctuations are proportional and character differences between the variations are not over-magnified, but stand in service of each other.’Volkskrant 4/5*
‘Brilliantly played across the board. The encore, Daan Manneke’s “Gedanken zu Bach” is equally very beautiful.'Parool