Not a well-known name in UK, I encountered Barbara Nissman for the first time as a vivacious lecturer in an academic meeting about Prokofieff in London. Happily, the day ended with a short piano recital, after which I received her pioneering CDs of the complete Prokofieff sonatas and subsequently others of important composers for the piano, which can be generously sampled on her website.
Barbara Nissman has an unerring way to the essence of each of the composers explored in her ongoing, greatly rewarding series for Pierian. Her programme notes are, as always, succinct and perceptive, taking us into Schumann's mind set during his twenties in the 1830s, the decade which produced all these masterpieces, intimate diaries in which he confided his secret thoughts and fears, and his passion for Clara.
Nissman traverses Schumann's constantly shifting and extreme emotions, best exemplified in Kreisleriana - future mental illness not far away. She relishes the composer's 'twisting voices' and impulsivity, with rhythmic surprises and abrupt modulations. Nissman mentions the difficulty of this music that does not fit comfortably under the hand, but she does not flaunt her virtuosity, which is never in doubt. She cites the dangerous difficulties of the Toccata and I was glad that she brings out the music in this piece alongside its pyrotechnics.
There is a feeling of musical 'rightness' throughout; it is all engrossing and, to my ears, moving - the Phantasie especially. I don't need other interpretations of Schumann, my favourite pianist composer. You may find that the sound is helped by a little adjustment of treble/bass controls, depending on your equipment.
Copyright © 2005, Peter Grahame Woolf