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Choral and Vocal
A SEASONAL MESSIAH WITH BALANCE AND HEFT
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The mid-December concert season seems for jaded reviewers to invariably include a Messiah performance, and perhaps a Messiah in a long string of similar and mundane performances. This was decidedly not the case when San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque mounted Handel’s eminent three-part 1742 Orato...
Symphony
ANDREW GRAMS FINDS HIS GROOVE SR SYMPHONY IN RACHMANINOFF
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, December 03, 2017
Last Sunday’s Santa Rosa Symphony concert featured two elegant and refined guests: music director candidate Andrew Grams and pianist Stewart Goodyear. Both displayed dazzling technique and consummate artistry, but Goodyear was the more consistent of the two. Some of Grams’ inconsistency may have st...
Symphony
SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High S...
Chamber
TETZLAFF QUARTET'S MASTERY IN MOZART AND SCHUBERT
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 11, 2017
German violin virtuoso Christian Tetzlaff presented a critically successful Weill Hall recital Feb. 18, and returned to the same venue Nov. 11 with his admirable Tetzlaff Quartet in a program of Berg, Schubert and Mozart. Clarity of ensemble has always been a hallmark of this Quartet, and contrapun...
Chamber
RAVISHING SHORT OPERAS FROM FRENCH TROUPE IN WEILL
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 10, 2017
Standard Weill Hall fall and winter classical programs are pretty routine – symphonic music, chamber, solo recitals – so it was a rare treat Nov. 10 when just two works from the 17th century were gloriously presented. With such specialized compositions, period performers with commanding authenticit...
Symphony
MEI-ANN CHEN PROVES A WORTHY CONTENDER FOR SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CONDUCTING POST
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 05, 2017
These days the focus of Santa Rosa Symphony concerts is as much on the conductor candidates as on the soloists. This past weekend’s concerts featured the second of those candidates, Mei-Ann Chen, along with pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, each of whom cut an imposing figure on the stage. Chen is diminut...
Symphony
TO RUSSIA WITH BRILLIANCE
by Terry McNeill
Friday, November 03, 2017
Russian pianist Denis Matsuev’s high velocity and frequently slam-bang virtuosity came to the Green Music Center last year with a thrilling and equally perplexing solo performance. So many in Weill Nov. 3 were interested to hear if his pianistic style would mesh well in a concerto, and with a fine ...
Symphony
THUNDEROUS TCHAIKOVSKY FOURTH OPENS MARIN SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
North Coast weather is turning cool and the nights longer, ideal for Tchaikovsky’s big boned symphonies. The Santa Rosa Symphony recently programmed the Fourth (F Minor Symphony) as did the San Francisco Symphony. Norman Gamboa’s Sonoma County Philharmonic just played the Tchaikovsky First, forgoi...
Recital
RESPIGHI'S PUNGENT SONATA HIGHLIGHTS KENNEY-GUTMAN RECITAL
by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 29, 2017
Respighi’s B Minor Violin Sonata seems never to gain conventional repertoire status. Perhaps the great Heifetz recording is intimidating, and I can recall over many years just two local performances: Jason Todorov and William Corbett-Jones years go in Newman, and a titanic reading in March by Anne S...
Chamber
MIRÓ QUARTET AND JEFFERY KAHANE PROVIDE MUSICAL RELIEF FOR FIRE-RAVAGED SONOMA COUNTY
by Steve Osborn
Saturday, October 28, 2017
Sonoma County’s Green Music Center has stood silent but unscathed the past few weeks as the county begins to recover from the devastating fires that began on the evening of October 8, only a few hours after a Santa Rosa Symphony concert in the Music Center. Since then, concerts by the Symphony, the ...
RECITAL REVIEW
Oakmont Concert Series / Thursday, June 14, 2012
Barbara Nissman, piano

Barbara Nissman On The Oakmont Stage June 14

VIRTUOSIC PROKOFIEV AND LISZT IN NISSMAN'S OAKMONT RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Barbara Nissman’s pianism is best heard on her own terms, with little comparison to current performance practices. This was in evidence June 14 when the venerable West Virginia artist returned to Sonoma County, playing a long recital in the Oakmont Concert Series before 160 in Berger Auditorium.

The recital was long because of the artist’s spoken introduction (both incisive and silly) and because the program was packed with pieces associated with Ms. Nissman’s lengthy career, beginning with study under the Bartok specialist Gyorgy Sandor.

Liszt's transcription of Bach's A Minor Prelude and Fugue (BWV 543) opened the program, a propitious choice. Though piano transcriptions of Bach's organ works from d'Albert, Petri and Busoni were once popular, the Liszt work is the one currently heard and Ms. Nissman gave it a wonderful performance, stressing contrapuntal clarity over sonority. The artist lacks a big sound at the piano and during the entire concert there wasn't a true fortissimo. No matter, clarity prevailed through the repetitive phrasing of the Prelude and there were some beguiling staccato touches in the Fugue. An auspicious and captivating beginning.

Ms. Nissman is billed as a Romantic pianist but Beethoven’s C-Sharp Minor Sonata (Moonlight) was the antithesis of a romantic interpretation, and the cantabile first movement was played fast and almost without rubato, the shift pedal used throughout. The sprightly rhythms of the middle Allegretto were put into high relief with sharp changes in volume and bouncy clarity. In the finale (Presto Agitato) the broken chords were played masterfully and the entire movement had drama, albeit without the last ounce of power.

Six of Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives (Op. 22) and his Op. 28 Third Sonata closed the first half. Ms. Nissman has long been identified with the Russian's compositions and played everything superbly, eliciting in the Visions, each fewer than two minutes, disparate and complex pianistic vignettes. In No.1 Ms. Nissman found a droll, wandering scene, and the nostalgia of the eighth. Toccata rhythms of percussive dissonance were brought out in No. 14, and a Satie-like lethargy of the concluding No. 1.

Prokofiev’s one-movement Op. 28 Sonata has always been a Nissman specialty and she began at a fast clip, the bright and dry piano sound ideal for the driving tempest of the work. Here the artist and composer became one and I cannot remember a better performance of this pointillist and virtuosic Sonata. The accelerando in the coda was potent, the bravura intoxicating.

Three Rachmaninoff Preludes, all in a variant of G, began the second half. The popular and bucolic G major from Op.32 had many individual touches and a unique rush in the concluding bars. The G-Sharp Minor Prelude, from the same set, drew an evocative sound of troika bells and the pianist stressed the cool colors of the work, long associated with Horowitz. From Op. 23, the concluding G-Flat Major Prelude had the requisite lyricism but was also a prosaic in phrasing, needing a touch of repose.

The afternoon's major work, Liszt's B Minor Sonata, surprisingly closed the recital as it usually closes the first half. Quiet endings are seldom part of a final work in a piano recital. Santa Rosa has recently heard the Sonata in the hands of Bronfman, Ohlsson, Hewitt, Spooner and also eight years ago from Ms. Nissman in SRJC's Newman Auditorium. Her performance hasn't changed much, and was again individual in the approach to exhibiting reserved dynamics, attention to structure at the expense of heroics and brilliant scale passages. The artist sporadically sounded frenetic in rapid octaves (forceful but not majestic) but they never failed her, and the velocity of the fugue was compelling. Ms. Nissman worked hard to get color from the hall’s piano treble, with some success, and her legato playing was seductive. In sum, and unconventional and at times perplexing reading of this great work that on balance succeeded because of her strong individual vision.

Applause was large but not loud, but Ms. Nissman was determined to perform Ginastera, choosing the final two of the Dances Argentinas (Op.2) as encores. Associated with the prolific Argentine composer for decades, the pianist played the popular Danza de la Moza donosa and Danza del gaucho matero with palpable energy and attractive guitar-like rhythms. As in the Prokofiev, identification with the works was total and the playing ne plus ultra.