“Concerto – A Beethoven Journey” DVD – Seventh Art & Piano Con. Nos. 1 & 2 – Minaar, p. – Challenge

“Concerto – A Beethoven Journey” (2016)

Music by: Ludwig van Beethoven
Piano Soloist: Leif Ove Andsnes
Directed by: Phil Grabsky
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Seventh Art (1 DVD) [7/29/16]
Video: 16:9 1080i HD color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Menus in English, Norwegian
Subtitles: English, Norwegian
No Region Code
Length: 92 min.
Rating: ****

B01AGQZF66 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 – Hannes Minaar, piano/Netherlands Sym./Jan Willem de Vriend – Challenge Classics CC72712 multichannel SACD, 64:59 (5/06/16) ****:

Two glimpses of different important series a treat for Beethoven lovers.

The five piano concerti of Beethoven remain staples of the concerto repertoire and are recognized as masterpieces that bridge those of Mozart to the early Romantics; many of whom modeled their creations after those of Beethoven. These releases are both fairly recent and give us a very rewarding look into two of the finest younger Beethoven interpreters playing today.

Of the two powerful and talented pianists, I was less familiar with the young Dutchman Hannes Minnaar. He is a wonderfully skilled performer and his work here with the Netherlands Symphony in the Concertos No.1 and No. 2 is of top quality, and in treatments – under maestro Jan Willem de Vriend – that sound and feel very authentic and style appropriate. The sound here in this SACD is big and expansive and if I have but one small complaint; it sounds to me like the tympani parts in the second Concerto are just a bit too “present” in the context of the whole in places. (It didn’t come across that way as much in the Concerto No. 1 for some reason.) Otherwise these are splendid renditions.

Incidentally, Stephen Westra’s excellent booklet notes point out very well that Beethoven did not set out to number his concertos and that, actually, the second concerto, in C major was written before the Concerto No. 1 in B-flat. Besides the relative ‘brightness’ of the key of B-flat major it is said that Beethoven took a while to become comfortable with his “number two” and considered the C-major First Concerto a better piece; hence numbering them to imply a progression of sorts. These are both masterworks, of course, and this disc and Minnaar’s performances are impressive enough to motivate me to seek the volume number one of his series which features concerti number four and five.

The wonderfully captivating documentary A Beethoven Journey features the great Norwegian virtuoso, Leif Ove Andsnes who is probably more of a “name” than Minnaar, and chiefly for his Beethoven concerto work. Andsnes is indeed amazing, considered by many to be the greatest Beethoven specialist since Brendel and Serkin, perhaps. The “journey” referenced in the documentary title is an actual tour concept of Andsnes to spend four years in performing and recording the five Beethoven concerti all around the world; with the present Mahler Chamber Orchestra and others. I had the great fortune to see Andsnes play the first and third in Los Angeles with Dudamel in 2012. Dudamel, a very charismatic podium master is not considered a Beethoven “expert” per se but I remember being enthralled by Leif Andsnes and the expertise and symbiosis that existed between the two. I am not a pianist but it feels to me Andsnes’ renditions of the Beethoven concerti have just a bit more of the ‘early Romantic’ in them; with subtly more graduated dynamic and tempi-driven emotion. However to actually pick between Andsnes and Minnaar in a “must have” Beethoven discussion seems almost pointless.

The film, directed by Phil Grabsky, is also a fascinating study of the psyche and inspiration behind both the composer and the performer. This is one of the better composer-performer classical documentaries I have seen. For me, few things will top getting to see and hear Andsnes live (although I did get to see Serkin with Ozawa many years ago do the number five and that was pretty impressive!) However, this DVD is a pleasure to watch and to learn from.

I chose to review these two recent Beethoven treasures for the rewarding and, yet, different experiences that they are. Hannes Minnaar is a very talented interpreter worth getting to know and Leif Ove Andsnes is already an avowed Beethoven master. I think anyone who loves these concertos – among the best ever written – would love both of these offerings.

—Daniel Coombs

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