There's perhaps a touch of irony in the title of Dutch pianist and composer Jeroen van Veen's box set Minimal Piano Collection because at nine discs, it's a pretty massive collection. The program booklet notes that he recorded the entire set, which includes more than ten hours of music, in only six days, an astounding feat. In the program notes, van Veen offers a remarkably clear and concise history of minimalism in music. He defines it broadly enough (following the lead of composer and critic Tom Johnson) to include works by Friedrich Nietzsche and Satie. Philip Glass is the composer most widely represented, with three of the set's nine CDs devoted to his music originally for piano, as well as transcriptions from his film scores and operas. Two discs are given to van Veen's mammoth 24 Préludes, organized according to the framework of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Other composers range from the very well known, such as Michael Nyman, John Adams, Terry Riley, Arvo Pärt, and John Cage, to the familiar-to-specialists, like Tom Johnson, Wim Mertens, and Jacob ter Veldhuis, to those little-known to American audiences, like Klaas de Vries, Simeon ten Holt, John Borstlap, Yann Tiersen, and Carlos Micháns.
Van Veen's passionate feeling for this repertoire is evident in the care he devotes to discovering and bringing out the distinctiveness of each piece. His style may not please some purists who demand a more reserved and less individualistic approach to this music -- he plays with great attention to the expressive possibilities of shapely phrasing, making some pieces sound downright Romantic. He is also a master of contrapuntal clarity and of bringing out inner voices. He makes "Opening" from Glassworks, which, when played less than brilliantly, can seem like a dusty exercise in arpeggios, into a masterpiece of contrapuntal writing. (He takes the liberty of inserting a chordal section into the middle of the piece, which works, but it's not in the score.) Van Veen proves himself a genuine virtuoso of the old-fashioned variety, with the dazzling technique and endurance to tear through Simeon ten Holt's knuckle-busting 35-minute perpetuum mobile, Solodevilsdance IV, and make it thrillingly expressive. A number of the movements of van Veen's own two-hour set of 24 Minimal Préludes reveal his predilection for Glass' aesthetic, but some are farther ranging, even requiring preparing the piano, and they make an appealing set, if a daunting challenge for a performer. The set closes, appropriately, with an hour-long, multitrack version of the granddaddy of minimalist music, Riley's In C, which is surprisingly effective and richly textured with keyboards playing all the parts.
Brilliant's sound is clean and clear, but a little closely miked, which can be remedied by adjusting the volume down a few notches. Any enthusiast of minimalism, as well as fans of plain old pianistic virtuosity, owe it to themselves to hear van Veen's remarkable performances in this budget-priced collection.