Rachmaninoff Volume 1
Barbara Nissman and Rachmaninov's Preludes constitute a good match. . . . the pianist's formidable projection, stamina and full-bodied sonority do full justice to the music's swirling display passages and quasi-orchestral textures. She proves strong in the ubiquitous C# minor, Op. 3 No. 2 where the intricate central episode builds to a radiant climax, as do the thick and rapid chords near the B-flat (Op. 23 No. 2) Prelude's conclusion. Nissman manages to imbue the composer's marcato demands in the third and fourth Op. 32 selections with impressive concentration and sustaining power. The same holds true for contrasting works such as the brooding B minor Prelude (Op. 32 No. 10) where the pianist imprints a welcome lilt to the Lento that too many pianists drag out....one must grant Nissman's ease and fluidity over the E flat minor Op. 23 No. 9 Prelude's treacherous double notes.
Gramophone November, 2007
Rachmaninov's complete Preludes are commandingly played by Barbara Nissman. With superb technique, Nissman expertly separates the ubiquitous figurations and filigrees from the essential musical matter they surround, giving her playing of these pieces an unusual sense of shape. The performances are feelingful, but the feeling seems to emerge from within the music rather than the sentimental heart-on-the-sleeve aspects so often emphasized. Luminous, ear-opening performances, in very natural sound.
Turok's Choice 10/07
Nissman has all of the technique, musical sensibilities and intelligence to do real justice to Rachmaninoff's music. Listen to the Prelude in G (Op. 32:5) to hear how she can float one of the most beautiful melodies. She does more with the less well-known Ab (Op. 23:8) than I am used to. The most difficult ones (B-flat, E minor, D-flat) are all handled with flair, but nicely balanced by sensitivity. She also seems more keenly aware than most of Rachmaninoff's quotations of the most famous C-sharp minor motive in the final D-flat major. I could nit-pick and find moments when her playing gets too notey, which is very easy in the dense writing of Rachmaninoff. The benefit is that you get to hear some things that may be new to your ears. I will listen to this many more times.
American Record Guide November, 2007
Nissman plays firm, persuasive Preludes
The latest release in Barbara Nissman's series of first-rate piano recitals for the non-profit Pierian Recording Society is this fine account of Rachmaninoff's Complete Preludes, recorded July 5-7, 2006 at Duquesne University. Here we have the complete Op. 23 and Op. 32 sets, plus the early (and universally acclaimed) Prelude in C# Minor. By all odds, this program should push the limit of an 80-minute compact disc. That it clocks in at 74:01 is a measure of the firm tempi Ms. Nissman selects and her no-nonsense approach to the music in general. That is particularly welcome in the much-abused C# Minor. Nissman gives it a persuasive performance that establishes its specific weight among the family of Preludes without making you feel a dreadful premonition that the world is about to end imminently. In Nissman's performance, one of my favorite Preludes from Op. 23 is No. 2 in B-flat Major with its flamboyant, fanfare-like opening and jubilant coda, with cascading double notes from the right hand and its mellow inner voices in the left in the middle section. Nobility plus tender intimacy. No. 5 in G Minor is warlike, martial, a Cossack parade as it sometimes been described, with the uneasy melancholy of its middle section for contrast. No. 6 in E-flat major conveys a mood of tranquility reminiscent of Chopin. The nocturnal No. 10 in G-flat Major makes much of the alternation of two notes, D-flat and G-flat, accompanied by soft chords in the right hand, becoming wider spaced near the end a miracle of utter simplicity and charm. In Op. 32 Nissman makes a fine impression with No. 3 in E Major, a processional with pomp and fireworks, clattering away in staccato passages down to the bottom of the keyboard at the end. No. 6 in F Minor is short, stormy and turbulent, while No. 7 in F Major is delicate, wistful with impassioned moments, rather like an impromptu. No. 10 in B Minor captures the joyous sound of Moscow bells, a fountain of notes sinking into darkness, a tribute in passing to Scriabin's Fifth Sonata. No. 12 in G# Minor also evokes bells- tolling bells this time with a whirlpool of downward four-note figures, a fortissimo climax, and then final phrases scampering away into oblivion. Wonderful. New Classik Reviews, Atlanta Audio Society 12/07
Playing of this standard lavished on these fine preludes will hopefully snuff that patronising put down that Rachmaninoff is a Sunday afternoon composer. Such critics also look down on that Prelude in C sharp minor as hackneyed. To me it's popular for the right reasons. It is a great prelude. Barbara Nissman's analytic remarks are very pertinent such as the three-note motive appearing near end of the 24th prelude to give unity to the set. Sharper still is her analysis that the final chords of that prelude are a retrograde of the chord progressions which open Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. Her technique as a bravura pianist is still there in full measure. The thick Op. 32 No.3 in E has her carving through the thick and fast chordal masses with cutting clarity. Her chording always was very clean, full and rich. Listen to her quadruple fortes when the main theme returns in four stave format in the C sharp minor prelude. How well Pierian label's uncompressed sound makes these fat chords billow out so lustrously too. Nissman puts her bravura technique to work by encompassing even the most difficult of these preludes such as the one in double sixths, Op. 23 No. 9 with such a sweep of bravura playing. Her approach and quitting of climaxes is intensified by placing the flux of her rubatos right on the nerve of the climax of the phrase. This is Nissman's supreme strength. In her very poetic phrasing of the Chopin nocturne-type Op. 23 No. 4 in D, the rubato climax hits the nerve right on that upward thrusting key change at 2.78. In those endless melody ones which was Rachmaninoff's strength, Nissman has its rubatoed climax perfectly placed at 1.05. Her CD gets to the heart of the technical demands- expressivity through liberal rubato. This above all enables her to convey that essential Russian flavour of Rachmaninoff's style. This is deeply satisfying playing. Ian Dando, NZ Listener, Dec. '07
"...one of the last pianists in the grand romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubinstein"