Notes and Editorial Reviews
, Volume 6
Barbara Nissman (pn)
PIERIAN 0043 (75:40)
Ballade No. 1.
Gaspard de la nuit.
Prelude and Fugue in d.
class="ARIAL12bi">Old Grandmother’s Tales.
Piano Sonata No. 5.
Etude in F,
Piano Sonata No. 2.
, Volume 7
Barbara Nissman (pn)
PIERIAN 0044 (72:48)
Love for Three Oranges:
I’ve been impressed with Barbara Nissman’s pianism ever since I first encountered it about two years ago, and I have been hoping that I would have the opportunity to go “on the record,” as it were, about it in
. Now that opportunity has come, and I feel no inclination to withdraw my earlier appraisal. There is no doubt about it: Nissman is a first-class pianist, and these two discs show off the breadth and depth of her talents. For what it’s worth, however,
colleagues Adrian Corleonis and Colin Anderson are less impressed than I. Anderson reservedly praised a Schumann CD (“there is more to admire than not”). Lion-hearted Corleonis’s take on an all-Liszt disc (the one that really sold me on Nissman, I might add) was that it was “best left to Ms. Nissman’s friends and pupils.” Ouch.
I can’t find Nissman’s year of birth anywhere, but she graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Music in 1966, so make of that what you will. She appears to be a Prokofiev and Bartók specialist, and also is associated with the music of Alberto Ginastera. (He dedicated his last piano sonata to her.) Given these affinities, one might not expect her to excel in the Classical and early Romantic repertory. Truth to tell, I find her performances in these areas to be less consistent, although none of them are failures. Mendelssohn’s breathless etude comes off with élan, but without the innocence I expect from this composer. On the other hand, Nissman’s
are outstanding. From the opening statement of the theme, which she treats with rough humor, and the pompous first variation, one knows that this is going to be a highly characterful reading. The Bellini-like
of the 31st variation is a particular highlight. Those who feel that this work is not among Beethoven’s most inviting might change their minds after hearing Nissman’s ingratiating performance. Schumann’s Piano Sonata No. 2 and Liszt’s
) are a little emotionally cool, perhaps, but Nissman’s performances suggest that she is a master of the controlled burn, and by the time the Liszt ends, one is left impressed by its gleaming precision. The Schumann ultimately impresses through Nissman’s technique; nothing is obscured or smudged. The Chopin ballade, not always as mellifluous as these in its fingerwork, is unquestionably a warmer affair, although the pianist’s “stop-and-go, hurry-to-wait” impetuosity (to borrow a phrase from Corleonis) does impede the work’s overall line somewhat.
Gaspard de la nuit
, on the other hand, is a sensation. I can’t hear the first piece in the set without remembering a pianist friend of mine, now deceased, who railed against Ondine rather personally, using a term I would prefer not to use here. Nissman does not exactly make light of “Ondine”’s challenges, nor are we allowed to forget them, but her risk-taking playing pays off big, and “Ondine”’s grand and passionate climax inspires awe. “Le Gibet” often fails because pianists make it too monotonous; Nissman succeeds by creating a thousand shades of black here. And, in bringing out the Spanish rhythms implied in “Scarbo,” she strengthens the music’s obsessive flavor. Volume 6 ends quietly with a Rachmaninoff prelude, and Nissman’s poise, shading, and cantabile playing create a very effective closing indeed.
Nissman takes a slower than usual tempo in Prokofiev’s familiar march. I don’t know how the composer would have felt about it, and I don’t know if it would work in the context of the opera. As an independent encore, however, it displays the pianist’s wit and control over color, as well as her willingness to rethink well-worn material. The Prelude from Prokofiev’s op. 12 is bright and witty, with very clean articulation. The
Old Grandmother’s Tales
is played with affection and, again, with a fine sensitivity for the music’s shadings. Prokofiev’s arrangement of Buxtehude’s organ work is a surprise indeed; Nissman plays it straight, and brings out the music’s Germanic strength. Bartók’s
is played with finely judged savagery and with a motoric drive that attracts rather than repels. In the Scriabin sonata, the composer, according to Nissman, “goes right to the edge of the cliff emotionally and carries us along with him.” That’s certainly what we get here. Scriabin’s piano music seldom makes a deep impression on me, but Nissman’s feverish playing makes the music more surreal and more frightening than I remember it being.
Both discs carry the following note: “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.” I am not sure what raising the volume has to do with capturing frequencies. I do second that emotion, however. In other words, turn these suckers up! The sound will blossom and seem more natural if you do. Also, the booklet notes are by Nissman herself. She is no less articulate here than in her performances.
Pierian has released 15 other Nissman recordings before these. It is unfortunate that so few of them have been reviewed in
. I hope this review will encourage listeners to explore not only the present two releases, but also their predecessors. Nissman is another one of those pianists, like Gabriel Chodos, who has not been taken up by the star-making machine, but who, all in all, yields nothing to most of the big names with big-label recording contracts in front of the public today.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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