top of page



"Barbara Nissman is probably the reigning Prokofiev specialist of the day."

The New York Post


Composer of the Month: Sergey Prokofiev 

Recommended Disc for Piano Sonatas and other works: Prokofiev by Nissman, 

A fine collection of Prokofiev's most important piano works played with charisma and fire. 

BBC Music Magazine12/08



The under-recorded pianist Barbara Nissman plays all nine sonatas (plus the incomplete fragment of the tenth) with a wide tonal range and sharply drawn contrasts that single her out as someone fully in command of the music's intricate detail. The energy and sense of occasion make this the best complete sonata cycle.

 "Classical Music on CD" (Penguin)



These are strong, searching performances of marvelously varied and inventive sonatas. Nissman brings to these fascinating sonatas an all-too-rare combination of stunning technique and unmistakable thoughtfulness. A significant release and a must for anyone with an interest in Russian piano music, 20th century piano music, or just great piano playing.         

American Record Guide



These recordings have been available before and are welcome back. A true virtuoso of 20th century music, Barbara Nissman serves all this music extremely well and is especially impressive in the cat-on-a-hot-tin roof hyperactivity much of it generates. The playing I enjoy most is in Sarcasms and Sonata No.7, but she has plenty of personal insights to communicate elsewhere, having evidently long pondered this music's differing impulses...Miss Nissman's playing is full of wit and bite, of dramatic shadings and crisp characterisations, not least in her splendidly relentless account of the Toccata (1912), a true conflagration between hands and keys....Sufficient to say that her interpretations of these larger works are replete with atmosphere and imagination, of astringency, brittleness, and extreme digital clarity. Melody has its claim too, yet much of this playing, like much of the music, has a sinister edge. 

Rachmaninoff Society Newsletter, July 2004 



Barbara Nissman's admired recordings of the sonatas, together with the delectable Visions Fugitives and other pieces, have been re-issued by Pierian Recording Society as a boxed set for the 50th anniversary of the composer's death. They are released as Women in Music Volume Three - interesting that this should still be thought necessary in the 21st Century? Nissman has all the power required for Prokofiev, but she moderates the brutality in which some pianists revel and perhaps brings a certain femininity to relishing Prokofiev's lyricism, but free of sentimentalism. The sound quality as recorded in the RCA studio 1988 is ideal for home listening and Barbara Nissman's own extensive notes about the project are illuminating, as are her analyses of each of the nine-plus completed sonatas (two versions of No 5 and a fragment of the incomplete No 10)  Unreservedly recommended; I loved them and they sent me back to the scores and to the keyboard to renew the sound and feelings under the fingers of the easier movements.

Musical Pointers 5/9/04 



Barbara Nissman's cycle is positively sensational, and might in many respects have been designed to vindicate Poulenc's description of Prokofiev as The Russian Liszt. This is big, luscious, rhapsodic and often electrifying playing in the great Romantic tradition of Liszt, Rubinstein (both of them), Carreño, Horowitz and Argerich. The instrumentalism alone is quite stunning, and absolutely worthy of comparison with everyone in that list. Within seconds of Nissman's volcanic opening of the First Sonata you half expect your equipment to go up in smoke. But it's never instrumentalism alone. This is not only a truly great virtuoso but a deeply intelligent and thinking one. Her ability to unfurl long phrases with a panoramically epic reach is something most pianists would hardly be able to approximate, much less achieve. The lightly sprung rhythms, the propulsive and aerating articulation, the mastery of fluctuating tempos and the fantastic range of dynamic and rhythmic inflections proclaim her a Prokofiev interpreter to the manner born. A truly great recording.

PIANO (UK)   March/April 2003



Overview: Prokofiev Piano Sonatas

...recommends Barbara Nissman's as the most consistently satisfying set: an all-too-rare combination of stunning technique and unmistakable thoughtfulness. Among other rarities she includes both versions of Sonata 5 (they are different enough to deserve the two separate opus numbers assigned to them) and all 43 seconds of the unfinished 10th. 

American Record Guide March/April 2003 



The virtues of Nissman's Prokofiev, now available again, becomes more apparent with time. Her intellectually rigorous focus allows few interpretive eccentricities, and the technical command is formidable... the wilder the explosive force the more thankful one is for Nissman's lucidity. There is one truly great performance of the Seventh Sonata; not even Pollini has a stronger grip on its unquiet spirit. The shorter pieces on the third disc emphasize a time when the young Prokofiev was merely playing at nastiness and morbidity; again Nissman pulls it all together.  

BBC Music Magazine  July, 2002



It once seemed unlikely that anyone would manage this horrifyingly demanding movement (finale of Seventh Sonata) as well as Pollini in his classic performance, but Barbara Nissman is if anything even stronger and more exhilarating. The Seventh as a whole is the finest thing in her complete cycle, now reissued by Pierian (0007-09) as part of its Women in Music series. Her intellectual grip on the difficult structures lets us follow her into the labyrinth with confidence ...her Eighth Sonata is a fascinating alternative to the somber introspection of Richter. 

Three Oranges Journal  November, 2002



Barbara Nissman's beautifully-focused and intense performances of Prokofiev's complete piano sonatas, along with several sets of shorter pieces (op. 17, 22) originally released on the Newport label, have been reissued. Nissman's performances are still the most satisfying of the several completes TC has experienced (Bronfman, Chiu).

  Turok's Choice 5/02



Prokofiev: Complete Piano Sonatas, Four Pieces Op 4, Toccata Op 11, Sarcasms Op 17, Visions Fugitives Op 22.   Box set of 3 CDs with booklet.  

Before reviewing this set, I found out two things about Barbara Nissman. She is a recognised world expert on Prokofiev's piano works. In 1989 she made history in being the first to perform the complete sonatas in a set of three recitals (New York and London) and to record them all on cd. What amazes me is, why did the sonatas have to wait so long for this honour? They are not obscurities. They are perfectly accessible masterpieces from the twentieth century's most fecund melodist and one of its greatest piano writers. Nissman's first originally recorded on Newport then transferred to Sony Classics, finally ends up safely archived on Pierian label which dedicates itself to preservation of historic performances.  Scrape the fungus off that designation and give them their true status ahistoric, as these are performances that transcend history and will never date.  Nissman's spontaneity and exuberance ensure that. Nothing is stale or over-rehearsed. She plays them with a freshness and enthusiasm as though she had just discovered them yesterday. Hear her heady joie de vivre in the finale of No 4 and youd swear she had swallowed a whole bottle of pep pills an hour beforehand.  Her impassioned playing which always puts heart first, is nevertheless underpinned by a sharp intellect. Her perceptive booklet notes are a fascinating read. It shows the mind of a critical Prokofiev lover, not a blind sycophant. Read her provocatively honest comments on No 5 for instance. I totally agree with her view that Prokofiev was a fish out of water trying to cope with fashionable Stravinskyan neo-classicism in 1920's Paris when he wrote this work.  Any fool can deduce similarities. It takes an expert to discern differences. Nissman never gives you peas out of the same pod. She enhances each sonata with its distinct individual personality exactly as in her written notes.  This is quite marked in her accounts of the three wartime sonatas (6, 7 and 8) which belong among the greatest of the twentieth century.  Her stinging performance of the abrasive opening movement of No 6 (possibly his finest sonata movement) is in sharp contrast to her warm and sinuously rubatoed account of the lyrically rich opening of No 8. Its length makes it the most problematic of all Prokofiev's movements. Under lesser hands it collapses into wayward custard. Nissman's structural insight into these sonatas enables her to give this discursive movement clear direction and shape. Virtuosic pianism is a prerequisite for nearly all Prokofiev. Here Nissman's heady exuberance easily gives the impression of living dangerously which adds to the frisson in such sections as the final pages of the famous toccata movement in No 7 where chords leap helter-skelter across the keyboard. In the horrendously difficult Toccata Op. 11 and Suggestion diabolique from the Op. 4 set, she seems to take risk to the wires but her safety net is always her bravura technique. Even today when bravura pianists are a dime a dozen, Nissman's virtuosity stands out.  Angularity, acrobatics, muscularity, jest and scherzo-ness comprise much of the fresh unpredictability in Prokofiev's writing and this is where Nissman's sparing use of pedal is her potent weapon in giving the required crispness for these moods. I bet she didn't touch the damper pedal once in the allegro inquieto sections which dominate the opening movement of No. 7.  For all the wide range of mood in Prokofiev, melodic richness is what Nissman clearly sees uppermost. Her poetic phrase shaping is everywhere apparent from the poignant beauty of those quietly spoken aphorisms in Visions Fugitives to those long spun melodies twisted in the middle of complex outer lines in the slow movements of Sonatas 4 and 8. This box set economically compresses all that's important in Prokofiev's solo piano music on three well-filled CDs with clean and vibrant sound quality to match. It should be a core of any pianists and piano lovers CD collection. I note Pierian labels this Women in Music Volume Three. When you get Prokofiev playing of this level, gender is irrelevant. Simply call it "Great Performances." 

Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener 1/6/02



Summary for the Busy Executive:

A triumphant return! 

Click here for a review from  August, 2008



Valuable Document

...a broad and valuable overview of an important part of Prokofiev's works, she makes this document a musical feast.

Algemeen Dagblad, The Netherlands



Nissman's playing is full of energy and color, and she tends to focus on the music's passion and virtuosity rather than its steeliness.                                                




Barbara Nissman's classic accounts of the complete Ginastera piano music and chamber music with piano (two CDs) and the complete Prokofiev sonatas with both versions of the Fifth Sonata, and the Four Pieces, Op. 4, Toccata, Sarcasms, and VIsions Fugitives thrown in for good measure (three CDs): These are phenomenal performances, blazing with energy and powered by an extraordinary rhythmic tension-- you'll have to go a long way to hear either set of sonatas done with this exhilarating blend of sweep and pungent detail.

              International Piano (UK) July/August 2002

sonata no 3 op 28 -
bottom of page