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Nissman Plays Ginastera

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983);Concerto Argentino (1935); Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 28 (1961); Piano Concerto No. 2 Op. 39 (1972) (original version)    

Barbara Nissman, piano

University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra

Kenneth Kiesler, conductor

Pierian 0048 (78 m 19 s)


The American pianist Barbara Nissman has long been a champion of Alberto Ginastera’s music. She first met him at the University of Michigan in 1970, when she appeared as soloist in his Piano Concerto 1, which she went on to play again with several major American orchestras. Ginastera’s final work, the Sonata No. 3, is dedicated to her. Nissman has previously recorded all of Ginastera’s piano music and music for piano and chamber ensemble on Newport Classic and is currently available on Pierian 0005/6.


In the light of this background, and the inclusion of the first recordings of the early Concierto Argentino and the original version of the Piano Concerto No. 2, this new recording is historic. Moreover, Nissman plays Ginastera’s music with authority and panache. Composed at age 19, the Concierto Argentino demonstrates Ginastera’s love of Argentinian folk melodies and rhythms and his vivid imagination in writing for the piano. Especially memorable is the dissonant seconds in the last movement to suggest out-of-tune folk instruments. It is an exciting piece and Nissman plays with the required exuberance. The orchestra is fine too although the percussion might have benefited from a little restraint.


In 1961, when he wrote the Piano Concerto No. 1, Ginastera was a well-established and mature composer. For the most part it avoids the folkloric elements prominent in the Concierto Argentino. The first three movements are more cerebral. The second and third movements feature transparent textures and extremely quiet music. Only in the final toccata does it truly explode. This is music exploiting the piano’s percussive potential in the manner of Bartok and Prokofiev. Nissman is equal to all facets of the piece and the orchestra contributes some extremely sensitive playing.


The Piano Concerto No. 2 is even more uncompromising. The strength of the piece is in its dramatic contrasts in dynamics. The second movement scherzo, a very clever interplay between soloists and orchestra, is for right hand only. The slow third movement drags on somewhat. The last movement is a real rouser, with vivid percussion and plenty of work for the pianist. With her excellent performance Nissman makes the case for the piece to “become a staple of the twentieth-century piano concerto literature.” This new recording presents Ginastera’s original version, as the first recording by Austrian pianist Hilde Somer (who actually commissioned the work) contains major alterations, including a left- handed scherzo.    


June/July/August 2013




GINASTERA: Piano Concertos 1+2; Concierto Argentino

Barbara Nissman; University of Michigan Symphony/ Kenneth Kiesler

Pierian 48—78 minutes


As far as appeal to the listener, Ginastera plays both Jekyll and Hyde, and both characters are in full display on this release. The Concierto Argentina (1935) is a winsome piece; the composer lays on thick the grand sweeps and flourishes, Latin rhythms and harmonies, and romantic melodies. His orchestration is more vibrant than an ark-full of tie-dyed peacocks. I wish I had the score to this, because there’s something playing quiet, wonderfully strange sounds on the off-beats starting at about 7:20 in I. I think it’s the higher strings on the harp played right near the neck, but I’d like to know for sure. There’s a brief miscommunication between soloist and orchestra in the opening bars, but the boat is quickly righted. II is oh, so seductive, with Nissman’s warm tone complemented by strings that whisper, ravish, and lay waste to all common sense. My word, a university orchestra? I knew U of M was well known for their program, but this is outstanding. III is a boisterous letdown—it’s exciting but not as strong musically as the other two movements.


Concerto No. 1, from 1961, is nearly at the other end of the tonality spectrum. It’s still colorful and vigorous, but very dissonant; I is positively alarming. But it’s not emphatically grating, as I described some of his string quartet writing (N/D 2009). There’s a solo piano break about three minutes in, as full of wonder as a snow-filled field under a sky so clear that it’s black. I can imagine many pianists not knowing what to do with that part, but Nissman’s touch and pacing are perfect. Then it’s back to the turbulence. The Scherzo, marked “hallucinating”, lives up to that indication. III, Adagissimo, is like a monolith; IV, a toccata, sounds a lot like one of Bartok’s piano concertos. Once again, I have to rave about Nissman and the orchestra: it’s been said that people wouldn’t like Beethoven if he were played the way 20th Century music is played: more people might like 20th Century music if it all were played this caringly. The musicians made sure to put a lot of nuance and expression into this challenging music.


Nissman plays the original version of the Second Concerto, another first recording. The work was commissioned by the Indianapolis Symphony and pianist Hilde Somer; Ginastera wrote the piano part in the Scherzo for the right hand alone, but Somer reworked it for the left hand and changed quite a bit in the process; she also altered the ending of the finale. Nissman undid both of these changes with the help of Ginastera’s own score.


I is a set of 32 variations on a seven-note chord from Beethoven’s Ninth; Ginastera added the remaining five notes of the scale to make it a 12-tone theme. Well, at that point, it could be anybody’s chord! The movement is more than 12 minutes long and gets to be too much. The fact that all the notes in the Scherzo can be played by the right hand is impressive,but there’s so little music here that I don’t care to be impressed more than once. This third movement is a third-rate version of the First Concerto’s third movement, and IV comes across as just rumbling and chattering. I guess two out of three concertos isn’t bad.


Just in this issue, out of nowhere, I’ve had four or five records with absolutely stunning sound, and this is one of them. Excellent notes in English.


March/April 2013



This valuable CD makes available two first recordings: that of the early Concierto Argentino, which Ginastera wrote in 1935 and then withdrew (although late in life he intended to revise it), and of the original version of the Second Concerto, which was altered by its first soloist. The Concierto Argentino turns out to be enormous fun, with two ebullient folk-inspired outer movements encasing a sultry nightscape – Argentine dances are peppered through Ginastera’s early music, and the Concierto Argentino gets its fair share, animated with lots of spicy dissonance. The outer movements of the Bartókian First Concerto (1961) are two powerful toccatas, with fearsome solo parts, either side of a spooky Scherzo allucinante and death-still Adagissimo. The Second Concerto (1972) has made the move into musical modernism but is immediate and arresting despite its more difficult style. The opening movement is a set of 32 variations on the notes in a seven-note chord in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, plus five of Ginastera’s own, to give him all twelve notes to play with; the next movement is a nervous scherzo for the right hand alone; the third, a dark Adagio sostenuto, builds up to and down from a central climax; and the finale a prestissimo helter-skelter, the piano flying along above a vehement, black-tempered orchestra, both infused with a malevolent energy. Barbara Nissman recorded all of Ginastera’s solo-piano music for Newport about twenty years ago in superbly idiomatic performances: she was the composer’s choice for those recordings, and with reason, and we’ve been waiting for this new CD of all three concertos ever since Ginastera’s widow gave Nissman permission to revive the Concierto Argentino. Nissman has a Rachmaninovian sweep and grandeur to her playing, and you need hardly make any concessions to the student musicians of the University of Michigan – just a little congestion in the texture here and there but nothing to distract you. 

A major release.

- KLASSISK (Norway) March 2013





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AMAZON: Customer Reviews 

5.0 out of 5 stars


Ginastera's Three Piano Concertos as He Wrote Them 

February 16, 2013 by J Scott Morrison 



Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) is easily Argentina's best-known classical composer (unless you count Astor Piazzolla whose oeuvre would probably have to be considered largely 'popular'). Certainly in his lifetime he was the most celebrated composer from that country. Further, he brought to a wider public the rhythmic and melodic characteristics of the 'Argentine sound' for the foreign listener.


One of his most fervent proponents has been the American pianist Barbara Nissman whose playing is heard on this disc. The CD contains two world première recordings: the early 'Concierto Argentino' and the original version of the Second Concerto. Nissman has made at least two other recordings of Ginastera's piano and chamber music.


In 1935, when he was only nineteen and still a student, Ginastera wrote the Concierto Argentino. It was played by its dedicatee, a friend of the composer, but afterward Ginastera withdrew it. Fortunately a manuscript survived and his widow gave Nissman permission to record it. Indeed, late in his life Ginastera admitted that there was some good stuff in it and he intended to revise it for publication but didn't live to do that. The concerto is in the usual three movements and, somewhat surprisingly to anyone familiar with Ginastera's later music, contains passages that appear in his popular ballet 'Estancia', written a few year afterward. The concerto is suffused with Argentine dance rhythms, particularly that of the 'malambo', and folk-like melodies. It is perhaps a little immature but it is nonetheless a valid work and is played within an inch of its life by Nissman.


The so-called 'First Concerto' (1962) has four movements and opens, after three mysterious chords in the orchestra, with a cadenza followed by a set of variations. There are twelve-tone but nonetheless lyrical passages. The second movement is a very fast scherzo played pianissimo throughout. The third movement, Adagissimo, contains an ecstatic climax and quotes, albeit obliquely, Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. The finale, Toccata concertato, will be familiar to those who know the version of the movement by Emerson, Lake and Palmer from their 'Brain Salad Surgery' album which had a wild popularity back in the early 1970s.


The Second Concerto (1972) was written for pianist Hilde Somer who premièred and recorded it. Ginastera had written the second movement for right hand alone but Somer rewrote it for left hand alone, changing it in the process. She also rewrote the final page of the concerto, adding more emphatic final octaves and chords. Nissman, who had access to the composer's manuscript, plays it as written by Ginastera. In four movements, like the First Concerto, the work begins with a massive set of variations, thirty-two in number, based on a chord in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (in bar 208 of the last movement, if you should want to check it out). One would not recognize this from the music itself as Ginastera takes the chord as the basis for a tone row. The second movement is a brilliant scherzo for right hand alone accompanied sometimes aggressively by the orchestra. The third movement is an Adagio whose effect is prismatic, even eerie. The Finale, which Ginastera says was inspired by the ghostly final movement of Chopin's 'Funeral March' Piano Sonata, has a dramatic fanfare-like opening which resolves into a prestissimo movement which ends abruptly.


Nissman, is of course, a master of this music and gives us everything one could want. She is accompanied by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the admired Kenneth Kiesler. Although the orchestra may have some difficult moments at times, one is amazed at the security and maturity of its playing.


This is a major release for those of us who love Ginastera's music. Much of it is perhaps a bit modernist for those who know only, say, his Estancia, but it rewards repeated listening. Hats off for this production of the Pierian Recording Society, a non-profit label 'specializing in rare performances and rare repertoire.'                                                                                   



5.0 out of 5 stars


A milestone in Ginastera recordings and a game-changer in our view of him July 25, 2013 by Steven Schwartz VINE VOICE


I second everything Scott Morrison said. I bought this recording for 3 reasons:


1. The discovery of Ginastera's actual first concerto, written at the age of 19. He withdrew it, but despite his best efforts to eradicate it, a manuscript surfaced in a Philadelphia library, deposited there by Nicholas Slonimsky, who came back from a South American tour with souvenirs. It's a wonderfully populist work -- sort of a Gershwin concerto with borrowings from Argentinian folk dances rather than jazz.


2. The only recording of the Piano Concerto No. 2, *as the composer wrote it.* Not only did Hilde Somer ride roughshod over the score, her premiere recording shows she never really understood the piece, which in her hands, is a bore. Nissman, so admired by Ginastera himself that he wrote his Third Piano Sonata for her and who also brought Popul Vuh to concert performance, plays the bejabbers out of it. It's an account that shows deep study and comprehension of the score, as well as exciting as all get-out. If you've heard any other recording of this work, prepare to reshape your view of the work. It's almost like a completely different score.


3. Nissman herself. She's one of the great postwar pianists, with an incredibly wide repertory, although writers have unfairly pigeonholed her as a Modern specialist (Ginastera and Prokofiev). I've not encountered anything that was less than magnificent, no composer, from Bach to Beethoven to Chopin to Debussy to the Moderns, she didn't view with her own slant and great taste -- a fabulous blend of intellect, passion, and sheer physical strength. To paraphrase an early comment on Rosalyn Tureck, this girl can 'play.'


The First Concerto competes at the level of Joao Carlos Martins and Erich Leinsdorf leading the Boston Symphony, the benchmark premiere recording on RCA, as far as I know never transferred to CD. Although she plays with a student orchestra, the level of student orchestras has risen to that of pros of fifty years ago (although not the BSO). The kids play their hearts out, responding to Nissman's all-out efforts. Nissman and her Wolverines leave everything on the field.

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