Very personal, warm and vital Brahms performances by by pianist Barbara Nissman.
Turok's Choice March 2006
On her Brahms CD, she contrasts the often hammered octave writing and hugely energetic technical display of his Op. 4 Scherzo, his earliest surviving piece, and the Op. 2 Sonata with the almost infinite subtlety of the Op. 76 Pieces and Op. 79 Rhapsodies. These are two utterly different faces of Brahms' version of Romanticism and Nissman is altogether equal, once more, both to the almost excessive gesture of Op.2 and Op. 4 and to the refinement demanded by the later items.
Musical Opinion (UK) March-April 2006
This new recording by the American pianist Barbara Nissman features music from the early and middle parts of Brahms's career. The playing captures perfectly the bravura and intensity of the young Brahms, with some really exciting, edge of the seat playing, particularly in the opening movement of the Sonata and in the thrilling traversal of the E flat minor Scherzo. In the later pieces Barbara Nissman is able to convey the sense of deep thoughtfulness and focus, and at times a troubled emotional impulse that is barely kept in check, that provided the core of the profound artist that Brahms had become. To achieve both of these features on a single disc, is in turn the work of a very fine artist and this disc is thoroughly recommended.
www.musicalpointers.co.uk October, 2006
Barbara Nissman has already given us a stunningly executed Prokofieff sonata series and a fine Chopin disc, among others. Her Brahms is just as rewarding but will probably vanish quietly in the shadows, as better known pianists usually get most of the attention. The cruel world is not always fair, but the American Record Guide leads again, with the hope that our readers will respond by exploring some new territory. Sonata 2, written by the 19-year-old composer a year before his Sonata 1, is an even more audacious work and drew the attention of both Robert and Clara Schumann. Brahms dedicated the work to Clara, and it is good to have it available in this highly sympathetic reading. The Eight Piano Pieces, Op. 76, are capriccios and intermezzos. They are among Brahms most often performed piano works and Nissman plays them with contrast and sensitivity. The even more popular Rhapsodies, Op. 79, require strong playing and attention to the give-and-take of proper phrasing. These requirements are amply filled here, as Nissman knows the ins and outs of everything she plays before sharing her views with the public. Her technique is flawless and the darkness, so prevalent with this composer, is given weight without heaviness. There is no weighty pounding in these lyrical performances. The two brief Waltzes from Op. 39 and an early Scherzo from Op. 4, complete an impressive program that adds another feather in the cap of this pianist, who offers her own perceptive notes. The acoustic is the large empty hall kind and casts the only shadow on this otherwise first-rate production.
American Record Guide 1/06
To scythe through the thick Brahmsian chordal jungle needs a pianist with muscle. Barbara Nissman's utter cleanness with heavy chords is ideal. Do that and you're halfway there. The other half is to pedal it all so that the chords hang together as one thick legato melody nicely phrased and with rubato where needed. Nissman does all that too so she's the ideal Brahmsian. Hear all the above at its finest in the two tightly written Rhapsodies. I have never heard them played better. After that, the two dear little Waltzes No. 2 and 15 from the Op. 39 set are played with the finesse and grace of elegant encores. Nissman's unpredictable programming makes you feel as though you are encountering a well-known classic like Brahms for the first time. Among the three large early sonatas, Nissman avoids the most commonly played No. 3 Op. 5 and gives us a powerful but cleanly chorded Sonata No. 2 in F sharp minor Op. 2 followed by the Scherzo Op. 4. The Op. 5 has a more clear-cut personality and motive coherence than the diffuse Op. 2 which needs the pruning shears to tidy up its gangly finale. But its echoes of Liszt's great B minor Sonata in its frequent bravura writing and its motivically linked four movements make Op. 2 an eventful listen. Nissman captures the youthful ardour of the 19-year-old Brahms with a strong Byronic sweep of impetuosity. The Op. 76 set, four each of Capriccios and Intermezzi, anticipates the reflective introspection of the later groups of piano miniatures. I rejoice at Schönberg's contrarian, Brahms the progressive viewpoint when I hear the rhythmic complexity of some, especially No 8 in C whose syncopation is even more complex with its warp and weft of 6/4 and 3/2. Here Nissman gives us the best of both worlds. Her clarity shows the rhythmic ingenuity while her pedalling and singing tone makes the melodic flow all sound so natural and inevitable.
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener 1/06