Recital Favorites by Nissman, Vol. 8 = PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 1; SCHUMANN: Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11; CHOPIN: Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52; LEES: Visage; ALBENIZ: Navarra; GINASTERA: Sonata No. 1, Op. 22; GERSHWIN: Prelude No. 2 – Barbara Nissman, piano – Pierian Recording Society 0046, 78:03 [www.ClassiQuest.com] ****:
Barbara Nissman performs on the Steinway at the Mary Pappert School of Music, PNC Bank Recital Hall at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh (17-19 May 2010) a selection of seven works she holds dear, particularly the music of her special friend, Alberto Ginastera. Always a comprehensive pianist in the manner of the old Romantic marathon performers, Nissman opens with Prokofiev’s one movement Op. 1 Sonata in F Minor (1909), an often turgid work but infiltrated by the music of Robert Schumann, whom Prokofiev had imbibed through his teacher Essipova. Percussive and stunning, the piece still manages its lyric moments in spite of assaults on bourgeois complacency.
No great emotional leap, then, to the turbulent 1835 Sonata No. 1 by Robert Schumann, beginning as it does with a passionate Un poco Adagio that soon embarks on a knotty fandango of the composer’s own idiosyncratic syncopations. Schumann adopted a tune from his future wife, Clara Wieck, and transposed it to his own ends, confessing to Clara that the piece represented “a solitary outcry for you from my heart. . .in which your theme appears in every possible shape.” The alternately playful and almost lugubrious affections in the first movement capture the Florestan/Eusebius bifurcation in the composer’s own dual personality. Nissman projects the galloping energies with a real gusto that never sacrifices rhythmic and motivic clarity. Lovely, Nissman’s shaping of the Aria, her often brilliant and bright filigree here subdued to liquid effect. The rush of pearls and agogic stingers resumes in the Scherzo ed Intermezzo, with its predilection for two trios, the second of which exploits Schumann’s tendency for buffo pomposity after the Commedia dell’arte. The last movement plays like a scherzo-ballade, somewhat anticipatory of the “legend” character of the later Fantasie; but the skittish, wistful, and mercurial figures toss every sort of virtuoso effect into the Witches’ Brew. Explosively and ardently well done, Nissman.
Since the Schumann suggests a ballade in its last movement, we segue to the most passionate of the Chopin set, the F Minor, Op. 52 (1842). Chopin takes a literary cue from Adam Mickiewicz (The Three Budrys) and then applies his own iconoclastic fusion of sonata and variation form, always infiltrated by subtle counterpoint. Nissman accomplishes a grand line in bold assertive sonorities, and she savors Chopin’s plastic poetry in all its dramatic intricacies. The last pages achieve a splendidly heroic peroration, touched by Melpomene, the tragic Muse.
Benjamin Lees (1924-2010) composed his Visage (2009), his final work, specifically for Barbara Nissman. Percussive, the writing recalls the Russian bells in Rachmaninov or Mussorgsky, plaintive and starkly grim, aware of our mortal coil. The music suddenly flies into an obsessive frenzy, only to invoke those fatal bells once more. I find myself thinking of Housman’s bitter poem, “The Immortal Part.” The affect changes abruptly with Albeniz’s life-affirming Navarra (1909), his own last (incomplete) work, finished by Deodat de Severac. Eminently Spanish and Lisztian at once, the piece allows Nissman to expound on her own emotional certitude with crisp élan. Athletic and bouncing with color, the effect beguiles in its ceaseless splash of Iberian energies.
Having touched upon the Hispanic impulse, Nissman can settle into her piece de resistance, Ginastera’s 1952 Piano Sonata No. 1, the Latin temperament spliced to the barbaro sentiments of Prokofiev and Bartok. Shifting accents and Latin song merge often in this knotty score, which loves to exploit toccata elements and subtle alterations in pedal. A virtuosic unisono provides the second movement Presto misterioso an uncanny Latin fire, no less redolent of Liszt, Ravel and the last variations from Rachmaninov‘s Paganini Rhapsody. The third movement, Adagio molto appassionato, offers a guitar-inspired nocturne, the flickering scales easily reminiscent of moments from Falla. Back to the Argentine pampas for the last movement, Ruvido ed ostinato, a strenuous course of unbridled primitive impulses Nissman calls “cathartic.” That his music rivals those toccatas of Khachaturian and Prokofiev in its inimitable Latin tropes becomes joyfully obvious; the piano sound truly brilliant, courtesy of producer and recording engineer Bill Purse.
The “encore” as such, Gershwin’s bluesy Prelude No. 2, permits Nissman her moment in our collective night-club, a torch singer of striking and sympathetic power.
More of Horenstein’s legacy, in this orchestral music of Wagner