Love & War
Volume 5 of Barbara Nissman’s “Recital Favorites” contains Chopin’s Andante Spianato & Grande Polonaise Brilliant, Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata, Liszt’s Three Concert Etudes (Il lamento, La leggierezza, Un Sospiro) and Liebestraum No. 3, Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro and Benjamin Lees' Odyssey No. 1 (0041). Her playing is crisp, technically superb and suffused with feeling. The “classical” pieces (Chopin, Liszt) are virtuosically played. Nissman recorded her fine set of the complete Prokofiev Piano Sonatas in 1989 (Sony, reissued on Pierian). Although she takes only two seconds longer on the Sixth in the 2010 performance, it is much more expansive and playful. The Bartok is short and very effective. Lees' dry piece has its moments, but is hardly in a class with the Prokofiev and Bartok musically. Fine piano sound.
Turok's Choice December, 2010
RECITAL FAVOURITES by NISSMAN VOLUME 5
Go direct to the opening bar of Prokofiev’s wartime Sonata No 6, specifically beat two of its 4/4 metre. That bass D sharp clashing against the treble E has the sting of a wasp. In fact Prokofiev bombards your ear with a swarm of them. Barbara Nissman’s playing of this movement is certainly not pretty. It is plain brutal, exactly what Russia was like in 1940 when Prokofiev wrote it. There is a gut honesty about Nissman’s intensely dramatic playing. In the finale the wasps start creeping back to give you their final death sting in the last five bars. Ives once said, "Beauty in music is often conceived as something that lets the ears lie back in an easy chair." When need be, Prokofiev’s armchairs are a bed of thorns. Elsewhere in this presto toccata movement Nissman chooses to underpedal which makes her rapid fingerwork all the more crisp in clarity. In the inner movements Prokofiev gives our ears a rest from invasion. The nostalgia in the slow movement is rich in counter- melody which Nissman’s awareness of inner detail articulates very expressively. The second movement is Prokofiev’s humour at its most droll. The sections starting at pages 2 and 3 with melody in thick staccato chords pianissimo against a contrary motion in arpeggio quintuplets is wonderfully dry humour and Nissman’s neatness with detail never lets you forget that. This, Prokofiev’s longest piano sonata receives an immensely fulfilling performance from the lively Nissman who always was, and still is, one of the world’s top Prokofiev pianists. The Chopin shows up her natural rubato, clarity with thick texture in the polonaise and rippling virtuosity in the effusively decorated melodic lines, all enhanced by her forthright dramatic honesty. Allegro Barbaro is exactly what it implies, a reaction against the piano as warm singing tone as per romantic era towards a dry percussive sound where expressions such as secco and martellato (dry and hammered) adorn Bartok’s piano scores. Nissman gets this style perfectly. She espouses American composer Benjamin Lees’ work, written in 1970 for pianist John Ogden. His bleak landscape and pessimistic view of humans expressed through volatile contrasts from violence to serenity are tightly contained within a plausible thematic unity shown up well by Nissman. Of the remainder –four Liszt works, the first two in the Three Etudes are long- winded for their slender ideas. In the two more popular ones: –Un sospiro and Liebestraum No 3, the tasteful Nissman steers a fine line between sentiment and sentimentality. For the term “Recital Favourites” this is a very meaty selection rather because I feel Nissman chooses works that are her favourites rather than pander to audiences by overloading them with warhorses. The stand-out for me is her brilliantly thought-out interpretation of the Prokofiev Sonata which shows such passion and humaneness in her playing..
Ian Dando New Zealand Listener 12/10