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Glory in the Highest



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A note printed on both the booklet and the back of the inlay panel for Recital Favorites II by Barbara Nissman cautions the listener that "No compression has been used in this recording. Therefore, to capture the full frequency range one must listen at a higher than normal dynamic level." That caveat was completely unnecessary. Auditing this CD at my customary level, I found my listening area filled with an abundance of gorgeous sound. Nissman's full tone, her keen sensitivity to rhythm, and her penchant for using the full compass of the keyboard speak for themselves. She doesn't know any other way to make music (thank goodness). And the program she has chosen is calculated to explore every resource of a grand piano, even the Steinway D she plays here. It begins with Ferruccio Busoni's superb transcription of J. S. Bach's organ Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C, BWV 564, a work that partakes of both the Baroque and the Romantic eras and does credit to both. Here, a lyrical cantilena over a constantly moving pedal accompaniment is the centerpiece, flanked by the energetic Toccata and the brilliantly animated Fugue. Cesar Franck's Prelude, Chorale & Fugue, combining rich chromatic harmonies and a spiritually transcendent mood, provides the other bookend for the first part of the recital. In between, as Nissman describes it, a "sorbet" between two main courses, is Samuel Barber's slender, lovely Nocturne, Op. 33, delicately colored by the composer's distinctive sense of harmony.  Beethoven's great Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53, the "Waldstein," follows, and Nissman makes much in the opening Allegro con brio of its driving motor rhythms,  the chorale as a strongly contrasted second subject, and the brilliant coda. And she revels in the moment when the quiet, pensive Andante leads without a break into the bravura finale, a Rondo marked Allegretto moderato, which she takes in moderate time as indicated, so as to take it big in the final section, a whirlwind that ends the work in a blaze of glory. And that's not all. The last pieces in the program, Granados' "Maiden and the Nightingale" from Goyescas, two beautifully contrasted dances, one sad and sentimental, the other as energetic as they come, from Ginastera's Danzas Argentinas, and Debussy's enduring Clair de Lune, finish the program in a poetic and evocative vein. Solid 24­bit recorded sound by producer/recording engineer Bill Purse does an optimal job of capturing a whale of a recital.

                                Audio-Video Club of Atlanta 11/09


Click here for a review from Musical Pointers:



                     Volume 2. Pierian 0036.

Like its Volume 1 predecessor, there are few if any warhorses amongst this enterprising 75-minute compilation. Granados' The Maiden and the Nightingale and Debussy's Clair de Lune are, but Nissman's freshness prevents them becoming chestnuts. Her two of the three Ginastera Danzas Argentinas are welcome as she worked with this Argentine composer while recording his complete piano works, She evokes his personality and the ethos of Argentina so well.The sinuous zamba sway in Dance of the gracious maiden on track 10 pulls the heartstrings of those of us who have seen a lot of Argentina and how it expresses the essence of being Argentinian. In the other short work, Samuel Barber's elegantly underwritten dissonant piquancy in his Nocturne Op. 33, serves as a sorbet between the two richly written works by Busoni and Franck just in case his greasy and overwritten chromaticism at the end of the fugal movement in his Prelude, Chorale and Fugue causes you to throw up. How Nissman avoids slipping over in the mud negotiating Franck's dense jungle of effusive chromaticism beats me, especially that clumsy shotgun wedding where he tries to marry the lovely chorale as countersubject to the fugue. My love-hate relationship with this work has enough love to make me glad Nissman included it, especially the Chorale with that wonderfully written thrice repeated melody in spaciously spread out arpeggios, quite the most moving and dignified Franck I have ever heard. That and the first half of the fugue are the essence of the best Franck. Nissman's structural sense in everything she plays gives firm poetic shape to the wayward sections of the Franck.  I admire her honesty with the Bach/Busoni Prelude, Adagio and Fugue in C in relating to this as a metamorphosis of Bach in romantic era terms, especially the way she brings out Busoni's large range of piano tone colours in each fugal entry. Don Juan Fantasy is no longer Mozart. It is Liszt. The same with the Busoni. That's exactly the way Nissman sees it.  The outer movements of Nissman's other major work, Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata, I find a bit too fast and headlong. The finale's elegantly poised opening theme is a beautiful woman emerging from a mist in dignified leisure of a moderato rather than allegro to my ears. However Nissman disagrees strongly and feels her tempi are totally true to her interpretative concept. In her favour I must say neither clarity of detail nor mood suffer. So the best advice is try these tracks and if you are happy with her tempi, buy, as it is in general, fine repertoire, fine playing and vividly realistic sound engineering free of dynamic compression, that bête noire of modern CD sound. 

Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener January, 2009




Nocturne Op. 33 -
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