Barbara Nissman has completed the eighth disc in her series of Recital Favorites. These discs have not been compressed; Nissman is available in all her glory (0046). Her program is Prokofiev's First Sonata, a lovely piece, Schumann's First Sonata, Op. 11, a welter of notes she plays expertly and Chopin's Fourth Ballade played with great technique and feeling. Lee's Visage is a very effective, sad piece; Albeniz's Navarra, is full of emotion. Ginastera's First Sonata (Nissman is a Ginastera expert) sparkles brilliantly. The concluding selection is Gershwin's Prelude No. 2 in which she has an unbelievable lilt. In all an impressive recital.
There are some quirky choices here. Barbara Nissman is well aware of their foibles but includes them as “favourites” nevertheless. Take the Prokofiev Sonata No 1 for instance. She admits in her notes that it is an immature work from a 15 year old but includes it for its “emotional honesty” and handles Prokofiev’s precociously written virtuosic writing brilliantly. But it is not a work I would choose for my CD collection. But so what? Taste is inviolate. There are works of dubious taste which I really like . One critic dismisses Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique as “good and bad taste in equal measure. “He cites its last two movements in particular. Hey, but those are the very parts I love! I’d give an even wider berth to Schumann’s Sonata No 1. Again Nissman is well aware of its weaknesses as “a large and sprawling work that is challenging to hold together.” She amusingly dismisses its finale as ”kitchen sink music.” It sounds like a melange of short binary pieces randomly thrown together. I could tolerate its close to eleven minute length if the melodic ideas were good but they aren’t and that from a composer renowned for the catchy individuality of his ideas. The two minute opening adagio, re-used in the slow movement, is the best part of the sonata. But again when you get into the first movement’s allegro proper he reveals another of his foibles noticeable in his symphonies too. If you say “apricot” flat out a thousand times that is the rhythmic rut Schumann gets himself into in this ten minute allegro give or take a few short episodes where he jumps out of the rut. Her earlier “Schumann by Nissman” CD (Pierian 025) picks some of the choicest in Fantasy and Kreisleriana but there are still masterpieces such as Études Symphoniques and Davidsbündlertänze that could have romped in well ahead of the flawed Sonata, especially the fierce chordal difficulties in Études which would have been ideal for Nissman’s outstandingly clear attack with chordal writing. The remainder is top stuff. Nissman again proves her ability in sustaining the drama of Chopin’s Ballades as in her impassioned No 4 in F minor. Again she champions a new work by Benjamin Lees and likens its main recurring and unifying idea to the Rachmaninov popular Prelude in C sharp minor. It is used like a binding ritornello with contrasting episodes to give cogency to an enjoyably digestible work. Albéniz’s Navarra unfinished at his death and completed by Séverac has the stature of his masterly Iberia. Who wouldn’t accept any Gershwin for a palatable encore as in the sultry jazz style of his Prelude No 2? The Ginastera Sonata is an old friend of Nissman’s and mine. My Buenos Aires wife gave me as birthday present in the early nineties a CD called “Criolla – the complete music for piano and chamber ensembles by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera” on Newport Classic label 1991 played by one Barbara Nissman. It was my introduction to the composer whose Sonata No 1 struck me as a 20th century masterpiece in piano literature with a powerful sometimes savage rhythmic drive akin to Bartok. Nissman was the first to record the complete music for solo piano and chamber ensembles in association with Ginastera. She has since become a close friend of the family and descendants of Ginastera. He dedicated his third piano sonata to her. Her fresh look at the Sonata masterpiece makes it different rather than better. The first movement with its assertive fanfare opening is little changed and same with the whispering presto scherzo. The adagio is the most changed of all. A more spacious tempo gives Nissman time to imbue it with a more deeply pensive atmosphere.
However I prefer the slightly more brutish Bartokian finale in the earlier version. This impetuous and physically exhausting dance in triple time sounds to me like a typical gaucho malambo where the tradition of this wild dance is still kept alive in the Northern province of Salta. There is a restaurant there in Salta city with meals served by waiters in red/black gaucho uniform and flat black hats where there are costumed stage shows of Argentina’s rich folkloric tradition performed all night by professional dancers including the malambo.
Ian Dando NZ Listener 2/12
Click to read a review from
Fanfare Mag July/Aug '12
"...one of the last pianists in the grand romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubinstein"