BRAHMS by Nissman = Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# Minor, Op. 2; Scherzo in E-flat, Op. 4; 8 Piano Pieces, Op. 76; 2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79; 2 Waltzes from Op. 39 — Barbara Nissman, piano – Pierian

by | Aug 30, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS by Nissman = Piano Sonata No. 2 in F# Minor, Op. 2;
Scherzo in E-flat, Op. 4; 8 Piano Pieces, Op. 76; 2 Rhapsodies, Op. 79;
2 Waltzes from Op. 39 — Barbara Nissman, piano – Pierian 027 
73:59 ****:

Barbara Nissman is an active virtuoso with a catholic repertory that
ranges from her specialties, Bartok and Prokofiev, to Beethoven,
Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, and to her beloved Ginastera. Nissman is a
bravura player in the grand style, so she inhabits a space occupied by
such luminaries as Gina Bachauer and Ruth Laredo. A kind of acoustic
purist, Nissman eschews post-production niceties in piano recording and
allows the spontaneity of the Steinway moment to stand for her
inscriptions, here made at Duquenne University in Pittsburgh on August
22-23, 2004.

Certainly the stentorian Second Sonata of Brahms (1852) proves suitable
to Nissman’s bold, athletic treatment. Relatively ignored by all but
Brahms purveyors like Katchen, Loesser, or Bashkirov, the Sonata has a
kind of Lisztian ego, tying motives together and exploiting
heavy-handed octave work. The second movement has more of the Schumann
sensibility, a longing for a passing dream.  The equally robust
Scherzo in E-flat used to find favor with Arrau, Backhaus, and Kempff.
Having strong affinities with Chopin, especially the Scherzo Op. 31,
the piece has a hectic presence that Nissman tries to assuage with
elfin applications of pedal and a tinge of melancholy. Curiously,
Brahms would not write another scherzo until the B-flat Concerto and
the E Minor Symphony.

The pieces of 1879 already betray the “old bachelor” ethos of the
composer, whose natural reticence and surliness could be construed as
misanthropic. Applying ternary song-form to the piano miniature, the
pieces look forward to Debussy and back to the intimate salon. Some
wonderful sounds emanate from Nissman’s hands, as in the Grazioso of
Op. 76, No. 3, a moment of unhurried eternity. Alternately skittish,
cloying, and childlike, the Op. 76 conveys resigned intimacy and
restrained aggression. The Rhapsodies, like the Waltzes, permit Nissman
supple grace, power, and selected moments of tempo rubato. The G Minor
happily balances moderate speed with poised articulation of the
figures, since so many fall prey to taking it too quickly. The sense of
architecture, so antithetical to a “rhapsody,” Nissman manages to etch
in bold colors. What we have is a broad canvas of a contradictory
personality in music, at once deeply emotional but ever mistrustful of
cutting the affective rope.

–Gary Lemco

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