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New release Bach Inspirations on Cobra/Agro, by Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar

Bach Inspirations

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The Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar comes with an impressive CV – third prize in one of the few piano competitions still reckoned to have clout (the Queen Elisabeth in Brussels) and a recipient of a highly sought-after Borletti-Buitoni award. So I had high expectations of this disc. Certainly the concept is an interesting one, viewing the music of his favourite composer, Bach, through the prism of figures as varied as Liszt and Grainger. Yet on repeated listening I never quite found myself feeling entirely involved (and this is music I love). In the big Romantic works, the Franck and – especially – the Liszt Fantasia and Fugue on B–A–C–H, there’s a lack of ethereal beauty of sound. Is the recording to blame? Quite possibly it’s exacerbating things. But I wanted more sense of Bach’s lines, whether in the solemn chorale tunes or his lively fugal writing. In Rachmaninov’s glorious tribute to Bach – a transcription of the three pieces from the E major Violin Partita, comparison with the composer’s own recording, though harsh, is instructive. The Gavotte lacks the airiness of Rachmaninov, while in the Gigue you’re too aware of the sheer mass of notes coming at you in this admittedly very tricky arrangement. The Bach/Busoni pieces come off best, though again I was concerned by the lack of a singing line, something which also afflicted Harold Bauer’s very beautiful reimagining of an aria from Bach’s 127th Cantata. And in the final number, Grainger’s ebulliently cheeky Blithe Bells (subtitled ‘Ramble on Sheep May Safely Graze‘) is a touch strait-laced.