Jeroen van Veen has for many years been a powerhouse in the piano world of the Netherlands and beyond, and his increasing discography of superbly produced recordings on the Brilliant Classics label is bringing his artistry to ever wider audiences.
Van Veen has a deep affinity for minimal music, and few have been as inventive with the Canto Ostinato
by Simeon ten Holt. It would be hardly surprising if Jeroen van Veen’s music shared some similarities with this and other works. Indeed if you know and love Canto Ostinato
or the other solo
or indeed multiple-piano works of Ten Holt, then you will find a huge amount to enjoy here.
Van Veen started his compositional career with two volumes of Minimal Preludes
, and these from Book III
are in effect elegant tributes to composers such as Philip Glass, Wim Mertens or Meredith Monk, but piece each having its own subtle variation on these trail-blazer’s gestures, providing just enough of a personal touch to create new worlds. Not all are gentle, and at over 32 minutes No. 28
on CD 1 is a real tour de force, packed with rhythm and drive. Such a whopping collection demands the picking out of highlights which are inevitably personal favourites, but of the Minimal Preludes
here I enjoy the ring-tone humour of No. 37 ‘Goodbye Nokia’
, and on CD 2 the spinning lines and added organ sonorities of No. 35
and the G. I. Gurdjieff prayer-like simplicity of No. 36
. All of these are excellent pieces but they also have a high usefulness factor – I for one would expect to see some of these in dance productions or films very soon.
Ballade for Frank
unusually mixes piano with the sonority of a high carillon, a sort of upper harmonic festival which jangles and mixes while also not mixing at all – in the best possible way. Commissioned by the Holland Dance Festival, Slash
roars into life from nothing and then channels John Cage with its prepared piano sonorities, doing what you always wish Cage would have done in his Sonatas and Interludes
and write something which really swings for an extended period. Van Veen creates a fantastic rhythmic machine which chimes, creates gamelan atmosphere and a sense of mystery while being endlessly entertaining at the same time.
CD 3 has longer pieces for two pianos, starting with the warm and uplifting variations of Incanto No. 3
. This kind of piece brings us back to Simeon ten Holt territory, while at the same time taking the line further in the way minimal elements are contracted and layered to create kaleidoscopic colour and a sense of surprise. Incanto No. 4
does similar things but with different and more dramatic material – it’s amazing what you can do with scales in contrary motion, and even though there are moments where development is slow there is always marvellous sonority and an ever-present sense of anticipation. These substantial works are divided by Minimal Blurr
, which extends the piano through the landscapes of extra electronic treatment, at times like seeing the sound in one of those eternal mirror reflections.
CD 4 has more piano and tape atmospheres in The Four Elements
. These pieces are very fine, and have many beautiful and at times striking moments. They do however feel more like studies or meditations on the themes of Air
, the greater substance and satisfaction for me coming through more in works which rely less on added effects. Repeating History
is in this regard another real highlight, giving a thorough workout to Bach’s Prelude in C major
from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1.This is a perfect piece for minimal treatment, occupying that world of pure harmonics, juicy progressions and dissonant/consonant resolutions, to which Van Veen adds a really groovy rhythmic feel. One has the impression Bach might even have wanted to join in, had he been able to make the session. Molly
is another lovely piece which would serve perfectly as a film score. This builds from sentimental atmospheric views to more smokily jazzy places, and there is a narrative at work here which works powerfully on the imagination.
CD 5 is dedicated entirely to NLXL
, which is indeed a film, showing the Netherlands in spectacular aerial photography. The work is created by way of a multitrack recording with a variety of keyboard instruments, including toy piano, organ and electronic keyboards, as well as sound recordings of birdsong and others, including motorways and other typically Dutch noises. Some of these inevitably work better with the visual imagery, but the huge almost 80 minute span of this piece holds its own power, and is full of fascination in a fairly theatrical, operatic sort of way.
Recorded and produced in Jeroen van Veen’s own studio, this release is top notch in every sense, and certainly in terms of production and performance. Sandra van Veen provides sterling support as usual in the works with two pianos, and the variety of instrumental setting in this collection would be enough to keep us going, as if the excellent quality of the music wasn’t enough. If you like your minimalism mellifluous and the kind of thing which can expand your horizons at the drop of a hat, then this has to be a place worth exploring and inhabiting.