Recital Favorites by Nissman, Vol. VII = BEETHOVEN: 33 Variations on a Waltz Theme by Diabelli, Op. 120; BARTOK: Two Rumanian Dances, Op. 8a; LISZT: “Ricordanza” from 12 Transcendental Etudes; PROKOFIEV: Prelude, Op. 12, No. 7; March from The Love for 3 Oranges – Barbara Nissman, piano – Pierian 0044, 72:48 [www.ClassiQuest.com] ****:
Virtuoso Barbara Nissman proffers another set of recital favorites (rec. 12-14 June 2009), some of which exert an impressive girth, like her 1823 Diabelli Variations of Beethoven in C Major, one of the monuments to Beethoven’s capacity to turn musical lead into precious gold. Nissman attacks the Diabelli waltz itself with obvious relish, and her brisk attacks and piquant sense of accent keeps us alert throughout. The canon in Variation VI receives a clearly robust sense of line, the right often trickling in sparkling fioritura over a serpentine bass. The consistent sense of musical pulse infiltrates the progression, no matter how well Beethoven disguises the original thirty-two measure theme, with its relatively bland modulation from tonic to dominant. It seems the very triteness of the original allows the manifold applications of Proteus their full range of expression.
The plasticity of the phrasing permits Nissman to highlight Beethoven’s often gruff or impish humor, of which the most obvious example occurs at Variation XXII and its puncture of Mozart’s aria from Don Giovanni. Nissman makes the Variation XV: Grave e Maestoso a sonata-movement all its own, a moment of subtle harmonic inflection that looks back to the middle movement of the Waldstein Sonata and the slow movement of the G Major Concerto. No less rife with bravura, Variation XVIII, a canonic treatment in two parts, enjoys lucid staccati. No. XX, marked Andante, represents the almost static center of the whole, and the dotted whole notes as played by Nissman remind us that Liszt conceived it as “the Sphinx.” The brilliance of Nissman’s filigree in the explosive XXIII, Allegro assai should convince anyone of her prowess in an unabashed etude in the style of Cramer. Much of the contrapuntal intensity and three-hand effects of the late variations upon XXVIII and following adumbrate Schumann even as they borrow Bach’s procedures for gradual harmonic evolution (here to E-flat Major). Nissman paces the slow variations so that they build a cathedral of sound, obviously conscious of the variants’ similarity to ornamented and trilled passages from Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat Major, Op. 110. The falling fourth and repeated notes in Diablo’s original provide the fodder for Beethoven’s three-voice fugue which will yield, most impertinently, to the C Major of the last-variation minuet. The sublime and the ridiculous have rarely been juxtaposed in such perfect concord.
Bartok and Prokofiev, Nissman “specialties,” so the Bartok Op. 8a Rumanian Dances enjoy her propulsive sense of motor power in Bartok, aided by duple rhythms and open fourth harmonies. The Magyar folk elements resounds in imitations of bagpipe drones and cimbalom glissandi. Both dances exploit keyboard virtuosity taken from Liszt but applied to a more “authentic” sound model in the Transylvanian ethos. The No. 2 eschews the classical, ternary model, insisting on a rondo structure for a series of pounding or foot-stomping motives, which ring out with distinctive gusto from Nissman’s Steinway.
“Ricordanza in A-flat Major” is the ninth of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes (1852), opening in a gentle 6/4. Busoni dubbed the romantic piece “a bundle of faded love letters,” and commentators see in it correspondences with Chopin’s famous Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3. Stunning runs in pearls and cascades counter a parlando melody that speaks the lover’s plaint. Like the A-flat Liebestraum, the piece conveys gestures of longing and amorous regret. Nissman keeps a taut line, and her ornaments project powerfully, much in the lyrically elegant style we know from Guiomar Novaes and Jeanne-Marie Darre.
Nissman concludes with her trump card, the music of Sergei Prokofiev: first, lovely Prelude, Op. 12, No. 7 from his student days and conceived for performance by harpist or pianist. So, a harp of the piano does Nissman make, alternately silky or glittering. The famous March from The Love of 3 Oranges certainly sounds “new” in Nissman’s deliberately marcato rendering, but the slow tempo does clarify some of the internal harmonies and passing dissonances, which we long have taken for granted.
Haydn Quartets, spanning two decades