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CHAMBER REVIEW
SRJC Chamber Concerts / Friday, November 21, 2008
Barbara Nissman, pianist

NISSMAN PLAYS RANDOLPH NEWMAN RECITAL AT SRJC

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 22, 2008

In the annual Randolph Newman recital at SRJC Nov. 21, pianist Barbara Nissman played a long and intensive concert with two monumental sonatas at the core, Prokofievís Sixth and the Liszt B Minor. Everything else on the program, heard by an almost full house in Newman Auditorium, seemed a little beside the point when Nissman charged headlong into these two pillars of pianistic drama, composed about 100 years apart.

Beginning with short but illuminating remarks to the audience, Nissman launched her program with a long-forgotten Bach transcription from the 19th Century. Not by díAlbert, Bulow, Siloti or Busoni, but the Organ Prelude and Fugue from Liszt in A Minor. It was a propitious start, and the performance was well crafted without being especially powerful. In another rarely-performed work, Barberís Nocturne, Op. 33 (Homage to John Field) Nissman brought out a flexible rhythmic pattern combined with a nineteenth-century melody and twentieth-century harmonies. Itís good to hear a Barber piece other than the Sonata and Souvenirs, and it was played masterfully.

Known as a Prokofiev specialist, Nissman played the composerís Sonata No. 6, Op. 82,
highlighting the biting dissonances in the first Allegro Moderato movement and carefully shaping the lyricism in the middle of the march-like second movement. A long, slow waltz (third movement) received some of the loveliest playing of the evening, especially with the elegant diminuendos at the end of nearly every phrase. The fleet Vivace Rondo concluded the Sonata, the largest of the composerís nine, and was played with an idiomatic detache touch and assured command. Nissmanís teacher, Gyorgy Sandor, played everything Prokofiev wrote, and his tutelage certainly shaped Nissmanís sovereign command of Prokofievís oeuvre.

Six short Rachmaninoff pieces began the second half, split evenly between Preludes and Etudes-Tableux. The popular Prelude in G, Op. 32, was played briskly and with deeper tone and more rhythmic subtlety than Elena Ulyanovaís perfunctory performance a week earlier in Tiburon. In the penultimate chord, Nissman took just a little more time, affirming the composerís wistful vision of a cold Russian night. Nissmanís pianistic color is most effective at less than high volume, allowing more treble richness to be heard, and the balance between her hands was uniformly exemplary. She has a pianissimo shimmer which in the many bantamweight piece endings worked to great effect, even when the luminous ďsleigh bellsĒ of the Op. 33, No. 2, Study were minimized by a hard touch.

Formally closing the protracted second half was an intense interpretation of Lisztís B Minor Sonata, a work recently performed in Newman by Angela Hewitt and Garrick Ohlsson. Nissmanís reading was more akin to Hewittís tempos than Ohlssonís monumental and orchestral playing from 2006. And the tempos were pretty fast. The Sonata, according to Liszt biographer Alan Walker, usually clocks in just a little under a half hour. Nissmanís driven playing registered at 27 minutes, causing left-hand blurs in measure 31 (where one looks for a resounding and triumphant B to sound) and some indistinct right-hand scales. Even the wonderful recitatives, chorales actually, needed a more expansive and judicious pace to counter the massive 12 chords coming between each chorale.

The playing before the fugue was amorously touching, pedaled with great care. However, the speed chosen for the fugue was as fast as I can ever recall, save for Barereís impetuous recording from the LP era, and brought to pass some close calls with control at both ends of the keyboard. However, thatís what in the end made Nissmanís Liszt a compelling experience, as she surrendered architecture and voice leading opportunities in favor of a hurtling passion and sonic contrast. The last chords were perfectly weighted and resplendent, the bottom B ending an exalted musical journey.

Responding to the unified cheers of 170 in the hall, Nissman generously replied with three encores: Chopinís D Flat Nocturne from Op. 27, and two of Ginasteraís popular Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2. The Nocturne was lavished with a captivating tone and precise control of the line, and perhaps lacked only the last ounce of spirituality of the classic Lipatti recording or a memorable Artur Rubinstein performance at UCLA on his farewell American tour. The Danza de la Moza Dinosa had seductive languor, the Danza Gaucho Matrero concluding with virtuosic spirit and two fiery glissandos.