Nissman enjoys a great reputation in America, both as pianist and scholar. Born in Philadelphia, she is particularly renowned for her studies and performances of the great romantics- Liszt especially. Her performance of Liszt's Sonata in B minor is sensitive and far removed from the barnstorming approach adopted by those lacking in her perception. She rightly treats the work as a study in psychology and philosophy She never overplays the second theme and treats its wide-ranging thematic activity as the discourse of a great mind expounding in terms of a marriage between music and literature. The lesser pieces are all played with superb clarity and sensitivity. Here is a Liszt player of superior gifts. Let us hear more of her.
Musical Opinion (UK) June/2003
A Liszt disc by pianist Barbara Nissman shows her at the height of her interpretive powers. The massive Sonata receives a strong and supple reading, beautifully shaped and exceptionally sonorous, due to masterful use of the pedal. Above all, it is full of feeling, as is the Consolation No. 3. In the Rhapsodie Espagnole and Paganini Etudes she brings out the lyrical impulses underlying the composer's elaborate treatment of very lovely melodies. Highly recommended.
Turok's Choice April, 2003
Everywhere within Nissman's reading, there are individual nuances of rhythm, dynamics, and phrasing that make the familiar score astoundingly fresh. She knows and feels the music from the inside; it belongs to her. This, I realized is one of the truly great recordings of the Liszt Sonata.The rest of the Liszt CD turned out to be of similar quality. The Rhapsodie Espagnole dazzles (the fiery technique is breathtaking). The Paganini Etudes (which Nissman plays in their later revision, the Grandes Etudes de Paganini) are not only dazzling but -good heavens!- wonderfully rich as music. And there is a heartbreakingly tender performance of the Consolation No. 3, Liszt's intentional imitation of the Chopin D-flat Nocturne (and in the same key).
San Diego Reader 3/7/03
Nissman whose new Bartok book emphasizes ability to analyze structure as an essential priority for playing Bartok, would be the first to agree that a performer who ignores form and structure in a work is flying blind. Do that in the Liszt Sonata and you won't even get off the runway. No chance of that with Nissman. The way Nissman uses differentiated touch to highlight Liszt's thematic intricacy would indicate she has put every bar of the work under the microscope. This lady has brains. An enormous range of tone colours is put to the service of guiding the listener through Liszt's web of thematic subtlety. Her fugato third movement shows this potently. How well she highlights its contrapuntal sinews. This Sonata an old friend of Nissman's. If anything, this new take on it shows Nissman taking tempo contrast and rubato to extremes. Her andante second movement typifies this. I have heard lesser pianists try this with devastating results on the work's continuity. The reason why it never falls to pieces under Nissman is that she knows precisely when to stretch tempo like India rubber or to have a melodic line heavily rubatoed. If anything, it helps Nissman penetrate its poetry and enter the work's spiritual realm. The outer movements need bravura technique put to the service of dramatic power. No problem there. Bravura technique is a given with Nissman. The Sonata demands so much. It needs intellect, poetic intimacy, dramatic power, bravura, an immense range of keyboard colouring for its kaleidoscopic spectrum of moods and all these put to the service of entering its spiritual domain. In short, it's a manysided work. Few pianists encompass all this within one rendition. Nissman is one of the few who does. In the other major work, the six Grandes Études de Paganini, Nissman delivers such clean and elegantly wrought performances that you almost forget the fiercely difficult technical demands these pieces pose. That's transcendental technique in its most musical sense. That is borne out by how sharply she delineates melodic foreground from bravura background. In the taxing tremolo background of No. 1, her finely contoured melody remains supreme. Again the melodic breadth in No. 2 never gets lost in the rapid scalic background. Her No. 3 La Campanella, is a gem of refinement and clear detail. Nissman's improvisatory approach is exactly right for the free fantasy style of Rhapsody Espagnole. Again foreground and background are in perfect perspective. Even in the dense bravura near the end which almost sounds four handed pianism, her sense of perspective retains perfect composure. Liszt's Consolation No. 3 is virtually a Chopin nocturne. Nissman nurses it with intimately contoured melodic line and fine pedalling. All up, this is such a deeply absorbing Liszt recital, I only wish Nissman could follow up with a second CD maybe the Transcendental Studies coupled with Liszt's deeply spiritual Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude.
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener