Notes and Editorial Reviews
We seem to be living in an era where great pianists (as well as cellists, and occasionally violinists) are popping out of the woodwork. Having discovered one such for this issue in Vladimir Nielsen, I’ve run across another in Barbara Nissman, born in Philadelphia in 1944. Her teachers included György Sándor. According to the notes, she is both a “pianist of a bygone era” in the tradition of romantic playing as well as a champion of certain modern music. She has given complete recitals of the sonatas of Prokofiev, and has long been associated with the music of Ginastera, whose last work, the Sonata No. 3, was dedicated to her.
Thus it is with some chagrin that I admit my prior lack of knowledge of
her. If this CD is any indication, and I believe it is, Nissman is a pianist of formidable talents. She combines the bravura approach of a pianist like Argerich with the warmth and sensitivity of artists such as Schiff or Perahia. She has a bold, rich, deep-in-the-keys approach that makes the Prokofiev First Sonata—a brief, one-movement work—sound like an entire universe of sound, and she can change and adapt her approach to music depending on era and style. Her performances of the Schumann sonata and Chopin ballade contain many touches of rubato that are well suited to the music, yet she never loses track of the structure of each piece. Everything is built around a long view of the music, knowing where she is going and knowing how each piece of the score fits in.
Nissman takes the Gershwin Prelude No. 2 at a faster clip than most modern pianists, but this is exactly the tempo that Oscar Levant played it at. Albéniz’s
breathes the sighs of Spanish breezes while Ginastera’s early Sonata No. 1 (1952) is given an outstanding reading, the repeated left-hand rhythms played not only with the proper feel but also with smoldering intensity. In the second movement, the unusual rhythmic motion, combined with Nissman’s musical approach, almost makes it sound in the beginning as if a tape were running backward—an interesting effect. The Adagio has not only the proper quietude, but a deep, mysterious quality that the music strongly suggests, while the final
Ruvido ed ostinato
moves with an almost impatient, restless energy. Benjamin Lees’s almost stark
, which was also written for Nissman, is given its first recording here, played with appropriate feeling. The opening sounds Russian-romantic (the liner notes suggest Rachmaninoff), but the music soon moves into darker territory, skimming the outer edges of tonality, working its way through busy 16ths to loud, staccato passages that suggest great inner angst. Clipped chords, first loud but then soft, centered on D Minor, end the piece.
Looking over other available recordings by Nissman, I would be very curious to hear the complete Prokofiev sonatas (Pierian 007-009), the complete Ginastera music for solo piano (005-006), and possibly
Recital Favorites Vol. 2,
which contains music of Bach-Busoni, Barber, Franck, Granados, Debussy, and also Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata. One final note: On the back of the CD it says, “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,” but I find that I don’t have to turn up the volume very high. In fact, the engineers seem to have accomplished a small miracle in that they managed to record the piano in such a way that, if you listen through headphones, you can actually hear the upper end of the keyboard through the right channel while the bass is in the left, with the middle of the keyboard spread through the center. Any way you approach it, this is one remarkable recording.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Reviewing original release of this recording, Pieran 46 Read less
Works on This Recording
Visage by Benjamin Lees
Barbara Nissman (Piano)
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