Rachmaninoff Volume 2
RACHMANINOV Vol. 1 (6 stars- highest rating)
Vol. 2 (6 stars-highest rating)
Pierian is a small, independent, non-profit US label specialising in historical recordings (they have Albéniz, Debussy, Ravel and Respighi on their roster of artists), in rare repertoire and in female musicians. The gem in their crown is the American pianist Barbara Nissman, who has already recorded Bartók, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt, Prokofiev and Schumann for Pierian (a CD apiece); they have also re-released a double album of her performances of Ginastera- all outstanding releases in highly competitive markets. The first two releases in what I hope will be a complete Rachmaninov cycle outclass even these previous discs. What you have here is an ideal balance of brain and heart: Nissman has a powerful virtuoso technique and has plainly thought long and hard about the music. So she is constantly revealing details that you hadn't really noticed before: she makes these teeming textures buzz with life. At the same time there's such spontaneity in the playing that the music seems to leap straight off the page, supercharged with energy. A word of warning about the recorded sound: at first, the piano tone struck me as a little wooden. But then I noticed the warning on the back of the CD box: No compression has been used in this recording. Therefore, to capture the full frequency range one must listen at a higher than normal dynamic level. So I turned up the volume and what had seemed cramped turned into a fabulously natural piano sound almost as if the instrument was sitting next to me as I listened. In short, this is just about the best Rachmaninov playing I've come across in quite a while.
Klassisk (Norway) March 2008
This is Volume 2 of Nissman's Rachmaninoff project. I liked her Preludes last year. The recorded sound is exceptionally good, with notes about the recording equipment and software used. The packaging is also well above average, with Nissman's own perceptive booklet notes, and the opening part of Op. 39, #7 silk-screened on the CD itself. Technically secure, Nissman makes some unusual, even quirky musical choices. Her performances are never run-of-the-mill and almost always interesting and thought-provoking. I would not learn any of these without reviewing her interpretation. For instance the E-flat major Etude of Op. 33, one that I have performed, Nissman made me think that's exactly the way I wished I could have played it.
American Record Guide May/June 2008
Barbara Nissman continues her traversal of the romantic giants- Rachmaninoff literally, with enormous hands and superhuman stretches (Cyril Smith). Those hold no terrors for Nissman, who sounds completely comfortable and at home with this composer, as with the others in her ongoing Pierian series. There is no feeling that she is trying to impress with her virtuosity; she lives in the music of her chosen composers year by year, and conveys what Rachmaninoff himself hoped, that his music would express what is in his heart when composing, be it "love or bitterness; sadness or religion". The "encores" are well chosen, with Rachmaninoff's arrangements of Kreisler and Rimsky (the Bumble Bee is in stinging mode!) and the Vocalise sounding as mellifluous on piano in Earl Wild's transcription as from any wordless voice. I have found Barbara Nissman a good companion with whom to revisit her favourite composers. She confirmed my impression that her latest, recorded at a Pittsburgh University, sounds particularly felicitous, attributing that to her new producer, Bill Purse. As always, there is no compression and high level listening is recommended. www.musicalpointers.co.uk January, 2008
The eight Études-tableaux Op. 33 are a natural extension of the Preludes in Barbara Nissman's recently released Rachmaninoff Volume 1. Nissman's own written profile on them is precise. One mood usually predominates with one technical problem motivically exploited within a short time frame and moulded into a concise three-part form. They are shorter too- about 2 to 3 minutes. Nissman wastes no time etching the individuality of each with her wide range of colour especially in the mercurial changes of No 6, the humour in the marchlike No 1, and her wide range of simulated orchestral colours in the heavily scored funeral dirge of No 8. The nine Études-tableaux Op. 39 leave the prelude model behind and become tone-poems in their greater length, an average of about four minutes. Nissman's turbulent playing of No. 1 and No. 3 is a forceful reminder that Rachmaninoff's technical model has now shifted from Chopin to Liszt Études. They are more outgoing. Their extended range of colour and structure can be heard clearly in Nissman's fine range of colour and dramatic shaping of the lengthy seven-minute funeral ode of No 7. In the dense chords of No. 5, the tricky part playing in No. 4 and the No. 9 with chords flying up and down the keyboard, Nissman shows how articulate and clear she is in coping with thick complex textures, and this with a fairly modest female hand span compared with Rachmaninoff's huge hands - 8ve and a fifth left hand and 8ve and third right hand. She never smudges. At the end are three virtuosic transcriptions as fillers. Nissman's bravura technique eats them for breakfast. She has Pierian labels Karl Miller and Bill Purse to thank for recording all her work with uncompressed dynamics. For optimum benefit increase your volume. The Steinway's bass sounds amazingly rich. Instead of ear fatigue from tinny hollow sound you will enjoy Nissman's lively colours produced with honest and spacious sound as though hearing it from her piano stool.
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener 1/08
"...one of the last pianists in the grand romantic tradition of Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Rubinstein"