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2004 Barbara Nissman Concert Reviews


Norton Series Starts Masterfully 

The ninth season of the Norton Building Concert Series got off to an impressive start Sunday, featuring internationally renowned pianist Barbara Nissman in a solo concert of music by the masters of piano literature. Nissman took full advantage of the setting and not only displayed musical prowess, but intellectual insight, tempered by an unpretentious attitude. She opened with The Appassionata of Beethoven which Nissman described as beyond the piano. Her symphonic rendition of the music certainly fulfilled that description with a particularly moving second movement. Her passionate playing of two Chopin nocturnes was surpassed only by the famous Polonaise, reminiscent of Horowitz, but she replaced his version with a more sophisticated style. The second half of the program featured music of Schumann and Rachmaninoff. She captured the confused and troubled mind of Schumann as expressed in his Fantasy, Op. 17 and showed insight into the work which can be an emotional and musical quagmire. Nissman can only be described as a national treasure.  

The Star, Chicago  9/23/04



CONFERENCE: Prokofiev in America- University of London     8 May 2004 

Introductions from Peter Dickinson and Noelle Mann; Arnold Whittall - Prokofiev in Theory: American Lines and Angles; Barbara Nissman - Gershwin meets Prokofiev: Prokofiev meets Gershwin; Fiona McNight - Towards a new Simplicity in America; Harlow Robinson - Prokofiev and Hollywood; Noelle Mann - Prokofiev, Diva and the Nightingale; Alastair Macaulay - Balanchine's Prodigal Son in America; David Nice - Prokofiev's Music in the Context of American Concert Life. Piano recital by Barbara Nissman: Organ Prelude & Fugue in D minor Buxtehude/Prokofiev; Tales of an Old Grandmother; Four Pieces Op 32; Sonata No 6.  


The all-day conference at Senate House, University of London, was delightfully varied, with international experts gathered to discuss Prokofiev's unhappy experiences of America. His two major biographers dealt with his music in American Concert Life - conservative and unready for him, "America still in its musical infancy" (David Nice). He met many influential musicians there but was frustrated in achieving a career there, but film projects came to nothing and only posthumously was he "embraced in Hollywood films" (Harlow Robinson). Alastair Macaulay, dance critic of Times Literary Supplement, gave us a virtuoso solo 'walk-through' demonstration of father, son and siren in the Balanchine/Prokofiev Prodigal Son, making at least one listener keen to acquire the video/DVD. 


The conference provided a welcome opportunity to hear in England again the great Prokofiev specialist, Barbara Nissman, the first pianist to have performed the complete sonatas in three recitals (New York & London, 1989) She gave an entrancing illustrated talk about how Gershwin played for Prokofiev, and wound up the proceedings with a recital of Prokofiev's early piano pieces written in America and a magisterial account of the monumental 6th Sonata. She was provided with a fine Steinway and the Chancellor's Hall in Senate House is acoustically bright and clear and deserves to be used as a concert venue more often, if the University might allow? 

Musical Pointers  5/9/04



Riveting Soloist Caps Symphony Performance / Brahms Concerto No. 2

Internationally acclaimed pianist Barbara Nissmans riveting performance of Brahms 1881 "Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major" capped the Santa Cruz Symphony's concert Saturday at the Civic Auditorium. The program was repeated at Watsonville's Mello Center on Sunday afternoon. Pianist Barbara Nissman brought Brahms "Piano Concerto No.2." to vivid life with magnificent interpretive skills. She commanded immediate attention from the instant she arrived on stage resplendent in a bright red satin dress whose fitted long-sleeved bodice gave way to a flowing bouffant skirt. Her fiery playing lived up to that dramatic image.  Nissman's powerful pianism easily rose above Brahms densely textured orchestration. The first two movements  both speedy and forceful  displayed her commanding power, as she swooped down on the keyboard with purposeful vigor. Constant communication, aural and visual, between Nissman and Granger ensured tight piano/orchestra coordination. The third movement, "Andante," saw Nissman's mood go from passionate to pensive. Here she shaped sweet phrases with the subtle pauses and nudges of sensitive rubato. The lively finale, "Allegretto grazioso," sparkled in orchestra and piano, alike. Nissman's involvement  and joy  in the music were evident as she moved freely and gracefully with the rhythm while playing. At pauses in the piano's part, she directed her attention toward Granger and the orchestra, often with hands on hips, arms akimbo, actively partaking of the music as she awaited her next pianistic onslaught. Nissman's dramatic and illustrative style, though not note-perfect, offers a deep understanding of the music.  After this physically demanding concerto, four movements rather than the usual three, Nissman responded to the audience's standing ovation and prolonged applause with a double encore. She played without pause two of Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera's "Danzas Argentinas." The opening "Danza," a sinuous tango with dissonant undercurrents, burst suddenly into the second, a whirlwind of jazzy riffs and full-keyboard glissandos.  Saturday was not Nissman's first time in Santa Cruz. I have been lucky enough to hear her here on four previous occasions. Three were solo recitals at Cabrillo College, Watsonville's Mello Center and UC Santa Cruz. But the first time was in a performance of this same Brahms "Concerto"  17 years ago! About 10 current symphony members date back to that performance in February 1987.

Santa Cruz Sentinel/April 6, 2004



Santa Cruz Symphony and Barbara Nissman at the Mello Center /Brahms No. 2

The Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 by Johannes Brahms featured the well-known and much anticipated Santa Cruz favorite piano soloist Barbara Nissman.  I feel quite sure that Barbara Nissman simply doesn't perform the Brahms Concerto; she lives it with artistic commitment and the melancholy bittersweet intensity that bares the undeniable Brahms DNA. To be sure, a Barbara Nissman concert is never complete without an encore and in this case no less than three! She performed two Dances by Ginastera and a work by Liszt. The encores were performed with exuberance, rhythmic zest, harmonic poetry and melodic charm. We patiently await Barbara Nissman's return.  

Register-Pajaronian/April 8, 2004




Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC

By the time pianist Barbara Nissman finished her March 13 recital in Salem College's Hanes Auditorium, she had made a convincing case for her thesis that, aside from his own individual voice, Sergei Prokofiev was a natural extension of the aesthetics of Franz Liszt. In the absence of program notes, Nissman prefaced each piece on the program with brief comments that drew attention to stylistic features, relationships between composers, and her approach to the works. Prokofiev as the storyteller was a theme of the opening work, "Tales of an Old Grandmother," Op. 31, the composer's first work written on American soil, in 1918. More than once, I could liken the effect to a Mussorgsky-like Russian tale passed through the prism of Liszt's late Romantic piano technique. The overall effect was simply lovely. Nissman described the outer two movements of the first of Prokofiev's three "War Sonatas" (No. 6, Op. 82) as the columns containing the "meat" of the work, with the brief witty second and romantic third movements serving as cleansing sorbets. There was no lack of fiery pianism in the huge waves of sound and dense texture generated, nor was there any lack of poetry in the delicate quiet passages. In the most complex passages, she excelled in attending to underlying melodic lines, aspects often neglected by many pianists.  Rippling arpeggios reflected Franz Liszt's tribute to Chopin's Nocturnes in his lovely and gentle "Consolation" No. 3 in D flat that followed intermission. Nissman said that Liszt had a much higher regard for Chopin than his Polish friend had for him. The performance was a fine display of her ability to weave a delicate line and paint with subtle tone color. The Triangle and Triad have not lacked for performances of Liszt's monumental Sonata in B Minor. Add Nissman's own view to this short list of wholly successful presentations. She succeeded in her stated goal to "make its form lucid on two different levels" while expressing her view that the core Romantic theme is "the Spiritual Journey... from Life to Death." Her two short encores came from Alberto Ginastera  the gentle "Dance of the Sad Maiden" and the fiery "Dance of the Clever Cowboy," a piece as taxing as any Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt! It is too bad that the conjunction of spring break at nearby Wake Forest University and the NC School of Arts kept the audience so small for such a fine musician.

North Carolina Classical Voice 3/15/04


Pianist delivers exhilarating concert

Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor remains the Holy Grail of the big pieces, a single movement sonata that embraces the multi-movement gestures of the traditional sonata. Pianist Barbara Nissman gave an exhilarating account of the piece Friday night in a benefit concert for the Clay Center in memory of John McClaugherty. Liszt's music is anchored by a hammered bass theme that draws its vast musical cosmos toward it like the pull of a black hole. Nissman built enough energy into the episodes that spin away from that bass theme that it seemed the structure might fly apart. The central scherzo/fugato, which culminates in fortissimo hammered octaves, had the relentless thrash of a meteor storm, while the slow passages glowed with an otherworldly light. Nissman never let the listener get lost in storm or ether. The bass theme held sway in all transformations, subtle and huge, and the 28-minute piece evolved with a satisfying clarity of structure. ... In Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27, No. 2 and Liszt's Consolation, Nissman struck a beautiful balance of sweetly blurred harmonies and melodic grace. Chopin's Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 55 had a poised fierceness, even in its C major center. She generated a muscular orchestral texture in the famous Polonaise in A-flat, Op. 53. Two Argentine Dances by Alberto Ginastera and Debussy's Au claire de la lune were offered as encores. 

 Charleston Gazette, Charleston, WV  1/17/04

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