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Romantic Tales


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Barbara Nissman, after a long and distinguished concert career, is recording her recital favorites. Volume 6 offers works by Chopin (Ballade No.1), Ravel (Gaspard de la Nuit), Buxtehude (Organ Prelude, arr. Prokofiev), Prokofiev (Old Grandmother’s Tales, Op.31), Scriabin (Sonata No.5), Mendelssohn (Etude, Op.104, No.2), Schumann (Piano Sonata No.2, Op.22) and Rachmaninov (Prelude, Op.23, No.10) (0043). No compression was used in making this recording; consequently it sounds completely natural. There are two great performances on this cd, the Chopin and the Schumann. Nissman phrases the Chopin (a most familiar piece) very intelligently, making something more of it than in most performances. In the first movement of the Schumann, she gets through the welter of notes to clarify the structure. The rest of the sonata is beautifully played.                                                     

Turok's Choice June 2011



The presence of smaller works to give relief to the three more massive Ravel, Scriabin and Schumann makes a thoughtfully designed programme. Among the smaller ones Nissman’s spontaneous ripple of light bravura fluency makes the Mendelsohn Etude one of my favourites among the miniatures while the Chopin Ballade (hardly a miniature, I know) launches the recital confidently with Nissman articulating the three contrasted ideas imaginatively and rising to crisp and full- blooded bravura in the climaxes. Schumann’s piano sonatas often get sadly side-lined in favour of the popular sets of miniatures such as Kreisleriana, Carnival and Davidsbündlertänze which highlight the contrasts between Schumann’s legendary  dancelike Florestan and sad melodic Eusebius. In the Sonata No 2, joyous Florestan reigns supreme with flashing arrays of dances at hectic speeds enhanced by Nissman’s articulate clarity at prestissimo speeds such as the rondo finale marked by Schumann “always faster and faster.” That Scriabin and Schönberg were evolving towards atonal writing from different countries and traditions is one of those fortuitous historical coincidences that have always fascinated me. By 1909 two years after No 5, written in a fleeting five days, both composers were fully atonal writers. No 5 has a key signature of F sharp major. Thereafter he abandoned them altogether.  Scriabin’s overkill score indications such as presto tumultuoso, vertiginoso con furia and leggierissimo volando bespeak a composer of overwrought neuroticism living on the extreme of his emotions. The score is peppered with tempo changes of ritard., rall., a tempo, accel  in nearly  every consecutive bar. It is one neurotic composed rubato. From the outset Nissman sets fire to the opening page with a six- second emotive  explosion.  Next page she must suddenly be languid and yearning, then to a sudden presto full of fast and widely spaced right hand chords that would test the wrists of any pianist. Be it this or widely spaced legato arpeggios underpinning large and dense right hand chords Nissman is remarkably articulate and clear. She is so agile coping with Scriabin’s kaleidoscopic mood changes. In this sonata you feel you have lived through 50 minutes of emotion in a mere ten minutes of real time. Nissman achieves exactly that. The two cruellest trills in all piano literature must surely be in Liszt’s Feux Follets and Ravel’s Ondine. Walter Gieseking was the maestro with his very even Ondine opening. In fact his entire Gaspard de la Nuit stands as one of the great historic renditions. Ondine is about seductive cruelty. No warm emotions here. Nissman sets its mood rightly as glacial coolness, a cruel beauty of the sylph on the rock, surrounded by masterly decorative writing so expressive of water. In the coda when the main tune returns in unison for right hand only, Nissman subtly ghosts it with a touch of damper pedal to give Ondine maximum seductiveness followed by her triumphant kill of her victim in a final arpeggio outburst. Nissman’s cruelty expressive of abrasive laughter chills the spine. In the opening Nissman sometimes almost loses the Ondine melody in the decorative writing where Ravel entraps the pianist’s hands in a finger muddle. But her clarity and fine pedalling saves her. Clarity is to the fore again in some of the most virtuosic bits such as when the trill jumps up or down an octave, the downward right hand scales of thirds and the way she broadens out grandiosely to the one main climax where the Ondine tune gushes out with circular roulades of orgasmic arpeggios. In the different cruelty of Le Gibet we have Nissman utilising the syncopated B flat pedal to give the background of desolation and tragedy with those downward processions of leisurely chords portraying the odd unhurried touch of wind swaying the hanging body on the gallows. Scarbo is the cruelty of nightmare fantasy as the demon appears suddenly in your room and exits with just as much sinister mystery. Ravel’s percussive use of piano is evident in the omnipresence of presto repeated notes throughout its eight or so minutes (not the three minutes as listed in the booklet by the way. No fault of Nissman. A correction from Pierian label?). The harder the music the better Nissman seems to play. This is bravura piano writing at its most virtuosic and NIssman meets it head on with stunning bravura. 

Ian Dando NZ Listener 1/12

Mendelssohn Etude -
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