Not Too Serious ...
Barbara Nissman’s seventh volume of Recital Favorites, includes Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations and lesser works of other composers (0044). She plays Beethoven's masterpiece with humor and great skill. (Nissman is a great pianist who has the equipment to play anything she chooses.) The other works are Bartok’s Two Roumanian Dances, Liszt’s “Ricordanza”, Prokofiev’s Prelude, Op.12, No.7 and the Marche from the “Love of Three Oranges.”
A landmark Diabelli Variations makes this one of Barbara Nissman’s top issues in her “Recital Favourites” series. The Beethoven Diabelli and Bach Goldberg Variations are often paired up as the two greatest works in variation form and also the greatest keyboard works of those respective composers. When you feel profundity of this level you are aware that great art is next to Godliness. How exhausting for the pianist. She must use variety of touch, nuance, pedal, tempo rubato or tempo giusto, etc, etc to change her mood 34 times in 51 minutes. But there is an overriding need to look also at the large scale design in order to build up a cumulative momentum towards that giant double fugue which is the work’s denouement. Her approach and quitting of this has been well thought out by Nissman. She puts maximum expressivity in the decorative largo of Variation 31, then throws all her exhilaration into the fugue (variation 32). What clarity she has in its 4 part contrapuntal texture. Then she leads into variation 33, the minuet finale. Her articulation of rests captures its gracefulness to perfection. I like her slightly dismissive mood in the opening theme to emphasise the frivolity of the Diabelli theme then into her grandiose chordal weight of Variation 1 as though she is saying, “Now here’s the real maestro.” Her crisp chording under speed is ever so nimble in variation 5 and likewise the neat staccato playing in 10. Her fughetta by inversion in 24 is all the clearer with Nissman’s voice-leading. The clarity of her presto fingering is miraculous in 23. The Diabelli is a work of such magnitude you need a second version in your collection Two of the most formidable alternatives are from Polish/Hungarian 42 year old Piotr Anderszewski. It won many CD awards and critics say he is to the Diabelli what the late Glenn Gould was to the Goldberg Variations. Stephen Kovacevich’s 1969 Diabelli (and still around I believe) was held up as the flagship of all Diabellis until he did a new one about 40 years later on Onyx label. It received very high praise although for my taste his volatile vehemence is a bit over the top. However comparisons are odious and I think Nissman’s new one here will give you great pleasure. Her 22 odd minutes of other works include Nissman’s pungent dance rhythms in Bartok’s Two Rumanian Dances, the yellowed love-letters flavour in Liszt’s Ricordanza and Nissman’s Prokofievian humour that she captures vividly in Marche from The Love of Three Oranges.
Ian Dando NZ Listener 2/12