Schumann's great Fantasy in C major, Op. 17; Kreisleriana, Op. 16; Toccata, Op. 7 and Arabesque, Op. 18 are superbly played by pianist Barbara Nissman. Her recording is not altered, post-performance, by electronic enhancement of the sound as is usually done. This results in a sense of intimacy which reinforces the fine balance she achieves between virtuosity and direct emotional expression. Recommended, in a very crowded field.
Turok's Choice, June 2005
Barbara Nissman has an unerring way to the essence of each of the composers explored in her ongoing, greatly rewarding series for Pierian. Her programme notes are succinct and perceptive, taking us into Schumann's mind set during his twenties in the 1830's, the decade which produced all these masterpieces, intimate diaries in which he confided his secret thoughts and fears, and his passion for Clara. Nissman traverses his constantly shifting and extreme emotions, best exemplified in Kreisleriana - future mental illness not far away. She relishes the composer's 'twisting voices' and impulsivity, with rhythmic surprises and abrupt modulations. I am not given to star ratings or comparative reviews; these works are all well represented in the catalogues. Nissman mentions the difficulty of this music that does not fit comfortably under the hand, and she does not flaunt her virtuosity, which is never in doubt. She cites the dangerous difficulties of the Toccata (practicing it could have contributed to Schumann's right hand becoming crippled permanently, Nissman suggests) and I was glad that she brings out the music in this piece alongside its pyrotechnics. There is a feeling of musical 'rightness' throughout, and sampling gave way to my playing the generous programme straight through. It is all engrossing and, to my ears, moving - the Phantasie especially. I don't need other interpretations of Schumann, my favourite pianist composer. You may find that the sound from Duquesne University is helped by a little adjustment of treble/bass controls, depending on your equipment.
www.musicalpointers.co.uk June 2005
This is spontaneous and expressive Schumann-playing…. Barbara Nissman brings zeal and poise, sometimes impetuosity…... Yet there is much to admire than not, and she responds to the music as if the ink were still wet. Some of her address is eloquent and heartfelt, and she negotiates the thickets of notes in the Fantasy’s second movement with aplomb. Yet, if some detail can be intrusive there is also a great deal of thought and preparation behind what sometimes can seem an overly impromptu approach…... there’s a swinging confidence to the playing, too...… the opening of Kreisleriana, which has fine energy if a slight sense of struggle, and there is much that is touching over the course of the piece. "Traumerei" is most tenderly expressed...Schumann devotees should find this a worthwhile release.
Fanfare July/August 2005
Schumann's Toccata is necessarily brilliant, yet while giving the attention to the tireless semi-quavers Nissman focuses as much on the inner voices and especially the bass line. Kreisleriana is intensely subjective, indeed introverted, even in the most demonstrative moments such as the fifth and seventh movements. The finale, a quiet yet very nimble Gigue, often sends the pianist's hands in contradictory directions, but Nissman copes most skillfully with such problems. Then she gives a passionate reading of the Fantasy, the result, I would guess, of many previous renditions, something which all recordings should surely be. Kreisleriana and the Fantasy are cruelly demanding and in very different ways from each other and from the more conventional virtuosity of the Toccata, yet Nissman brings eloquence to both and to the quiet Arabesque.
Musical Opinion (UK) March-April 2006
How colourfully Nissman etches the wild and crazy contrasts of Schumann’s split personality from introspective despair to euphoria. She's just the person to do this, as she is an intelligent and imaginative risk-taker with a mind of her own. No safe conventional playing from her, thank Heavens. She reminds me of the excitement of Argerich in that respect. It still surprises me how many pianists play Kreisleriana’s opening movement as mere bland figuration. But not Nissman of course. She links the two-note semitone fragments of each phrase into a highly passionate ascending melody just as it should be. And how telling is her natural feel for tempo rubato in the middle section of this opening. In the impassioned opening movement of the Fantasia. Nissman tugs your heartstrings pouring out Schumann’s insatiable love and longing for Clara, his future wife. The three shorter pieces include the notoriously difficult Toccata. Nissman handles its awkward chordal leaps and double notes with virtuosic sweep and clarity. Her Träumerai is tender while her Arabeske is a rapidly delicate whisper, rather Horowitzian compared with Rubinstein who slows it into an andante song. Schumann is not a conscious bravura writer in the Liszt and Chopin tradition yet his pianism is cussedly awkward because of the inner voices often woven into his richly chordal texture, sudden rhythmic surprises, abrupt key changes and fleeting mood swings. It needs a pianist clean with leaping chordal textures and Nissman excels with these Schumannesque quirks of technical difficulty. All up this is a very refreshing view of the typically romantic in Schumann.
Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener
Not a well-known name in UK, I encountered Barbara Nissman as a vivacious lecturer in an academic meeting about Prokofiev at Senate House, University of London. Happily, the day ended with a short piano recital, after which I received for review her CDs of the complete Prokofiev sonatas. Since then I have a batch of Barbara Nissman's recordings on Pierian Recording Society (a non-profit, tax- exempt organization, which deserves support for its dedication to preserving 'historic performances and obscure repertoire'). They can be bought from Amazon UK or Amazon USA. Barbara has been a welcome house-guest of ours for several weeks! There is in her recordings a rare combination of unassertive virtuosity, which never draws attention to itself, and an identification with each of her chosen composers. The liner notes by Barbara Nissman too are illuminating, as are those from the production team about the recording processes. They are 'straight' performances, without post-production manipulation. At first I found some of them a bit 'plummy' in the bass, but have been persuaded by the notes, which characterise us as 'conservative' listeners, and urge purchasers to play the CDs at a high volume for best results, as if we were sitting a few feet from the keyboard! That does work. I've never been one for listening comparatively and choosing "the best". Good recordings, and these are all such, take you in, and away from critical listening at the same time to other sounds and performances in your 'brain-bank'. My favourites include lesser known pianists, e.g. Schnabel in Beethoven, Olga Tverskaya & Richter in Schubert, Pachmann & Movarek in Chopin - to give some idea of the range - and Barbara Nissman lives comfortably in this company, and that of those who are currently lionised for their 'brilliance'. She puts the music and the articulation of its harmonic basis first, with flights of virtuosity often understated as filligree decoration, and a clear sense of the musical world each composer lived in. Barbara Nissman's website speaks for itself, with many reviews reprinted complete (not just the favourable quotes often used for publicity) and there are too, complete pieces from the CDs to listen to on line.
www.musicalpointers.co.uk June 2005