Listening to these recitals (with more promised later in the year) is to be reminded of what is now generally held to be a bygone era. With so many young musicians focusing on the notes rather than what actually lies behind them, Barbara Nissman gives an object lesson in musical semantics. Time and time again she finds a way of subtly articulating important musical events in a way that illuminates the music that surrounds them. Even in such familiar territory as Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata, I found myself listening with renewed concentration. So often one hears the rapid scale descents of the introduction dispatched as though they were exercises in machinegun accuracy, whereas Nissman insinuates them into the textures with a glissandolike, will-o-the-wisp, sleight of hand nonchalance that grips the imagination. One can hear a similar effect in the tricky upward arpeggiations that litter the opening of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, where Nissman focuses on the music's thematic and harmonic exhilaration (and its essentially cantabile character) by integrating the flourishes naturally into the onward flow. Her Prokofiev (four Visions fugitives and the Third Sonata) lacks nothing in power and forward momentum, yet even when the composer is at his most vehement, Nissman exhilarates beguilingly in the music's motoric energy rather than merely thrashing it into submission. She also demonstrates an unusual flair for the Hispanic muse in Granados's Quejas o la Maya (from Goyescas) and Argentinean Alberto Ginastera's Danza de la mosa donosa and Danza del gaucho matrero. Yet perhaps the most revelatory playing of all is reserved for Franck's Prelude, chorale et fugue, a work that in the wrong hands can seem interminable. The inner glow that is a feature of all of Nissman's playing warms Franck's neogothic textures to create a magical world of affectionate splendor.
International Piano March-April 2009
On two discs offering her favorite recital pieces, Barbara Nissman plays superbly (Pierian:Vol.I,0035, Vol.II,0036). The repertory consists of large works as well as encores: two Beethoven sonatas (Op. 13-Vol.I, Op. 53-Vol.II), Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy,(Vol.I), Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1(Vol.I), Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue arranged by Busoni and Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue (Vol.II). With the exception of Debussy's Clair de Lune and Chopin's D-flat Nocturne, the encore-type pieces, rather off the beaten path, are by Prokofiev, Barber, Ginastera and Granados. Nissman plays with technical assurance but also with distinct personalization of the various pieces.
Turok's Choice March 2009
BARBARA NISSMAN Recital Favourites Volume 1
If favourites conjure up a CD full of warhorses, they are almost conspicuous by their absence here. Beethoven's Sonate Pathétique could almost be one but not the way Nissman refreshes it. Her fast finale ripples spontaneously. The heavy tread of the introduction gives way to a menacing first movement full of urgency and forward momentum. Nearly all the rest are anything but chestnuts. The rarely heard Prokofiev Visions Fugitives Op. 22 serve as poetic hors d'oevres to the even rarer Prokofiev Sonata No. 3. Nissman dispatches its athletic vitality with exhilarating energy. Her Lisztian bravura playing is still as grand manner as ever in her Mephisto Waltz No. 1 where she shows up its modernism of quartal harmonies in the driving opening and the Scriabinesque harmonies in the poetic middle section. It is refreshing too to hear the neglected Liszt transcription of Isolde's Liebestod from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Nissman shapes Wagner's mouth-watering rhetoric leading to its immense climax of undisguised orgasm with such inexorability. Her Chopin Nocturne in D flat Op. 27 No. 2 has refined rubato playing and gracefulness with the decorative writing. To me Nissman's great performance on this CD is her Schubert Wanderer Fantasia. She once said that a pianist playing a work without analysing its structure is flying blind. No road map is needed to follow her performance. Her navigation skill guides you faultlessly through its non-stop four movements of opening march, adagio with variations (8.40) bravura waltz (12.0) and a thumping fugato (16.51) changing to a virtuosic return of the opening march. As music history's first cyclic work where a non-stop multi-movement work is thematically governed by variations of one motif (and culminating in Liszt's B minor Sonata- the Romantic era's great cyclic masterpiece), Nissman's unfailing insight shows how the Schubert opening Wanderer motif in the first few bars keeps reinventing itself. Structurally it is the most clearly articulated Wanderer performance I have heard yet and all propelled by Nissman's exciting involvement as though she loves every bar of it. As an added bonus this CD uses no compression of dynamics. Turn the sound up to concert hall level and aurally you are sitting on Nissman's own piano stool.
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener