The second concert I went to this semester was Barbara Nissman’s piano recital on March 19th. The program included pieces from Ginastera, Liszt, Bartok, and Prokofiev. Nissman played Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1, Op. 22, which includes 4 movements in mostly standard sonata form. The third movement is a molto appassionato rather than a minuet. She then played Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, S. 178. After the intermission, she played two pieces from Béla Bartók: the Allegro Barbaro and the Musiques Nocturnes from the Out of Doors suite. The last piece on the program was Prokofiev’s three-movement Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 62. Liszt is Romantic Era, while the others are Modern composers that composed Neoclassical music.
Before playing a piece from each composer, Nissman discussed the composer’s career and what makes them unique. She started with Alberto Ginastera, who is the most recent composer on the program. She talked about how the “primitive motoric and rhythmic energy” of Ginastera’s fourth movement is like Prokofiev’s toccata writing, and how different elements of the earlier composers in the program helped influence (or at least were similar to) Ginastera’s sonata. This piece was energetic is most parts, I especially liked the second movement.
Barbara Nissman really likes Franz Liszt; she is considered one of the world’s leading experts on Franz Liszt and in her introduction, she described him as the “greatest pianist who ever lived.” She spoke both of Liszt’s ability to destroy pianos during a performance and his “great spirituality and depth of soul,” especially in the piece she played, which she described as Liszt’s “personal confessional to his Maker.” The form of Liszt’s sonata was revolutionary because it linked four contrasting sections and a coda into a one-movement sonata. Because I was brought up watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, I was half expecting a mouse to pop out of the piano and start playing with her (this did not happen). The piece included a lot of glissandos and dynamic contrast. The slower parts of the piece were more delicate. I noticed that Nissman has a gentle posture and tends to smile at the keys when she plays. Liszt was my least favorite out of the bunch, mainly because it felt like the virtuosic quality of Liszt’s music serves no other purpose than to be overcomplicated and virtuosic.
Barbara Nissman described 1926 as Bartók’s golden year, and specifically pointed at the Out of Doors suite. The Out of Doors suite is a collection of character pieces, and the one she picked out was the Musiques Nocturnes piece. This piece painted the sounds of a North Carolina summer evening, complete with cicadas. The piece starts with dissonance, which is gradually resolved throughout the piece. I found Bartok more fun to listen to than Liszt; as Nissman described it, “less is more.” Bartok’s piece was more delicate than Liszt’s or Ginastera’s pieces.
The final composer on the list was Prokofiev, who Nissman described as the “Russian Liszt.” She discussed how Prokofiev’s 6th sonata is called a war sonata, which did not depict war but were started during World War II. The sonata was 4 movements, with the 1st and 4th movements as “pillars” of the sonata and the 2nd and 3rd movements as “diversions.” Prokofiev ties everything together in the last movement. This piece was generally percussive, with a rapid, exiting pace. There was a clear division of movements, and the 2nd movement was “bouncy” and light-hearted, and the 3rd movement flows nicely.
Like the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, Barbara Nissman gave two encores. The first was the piece Liszt wrote to mourn Chopin’s death. This was absolutely beautiful, and made the little old lady next to me cry. This song was delicate and somber, and sounds almost like one of Chopin’s nocturnes (which may be the inspiration). This reminded me of John Barry’s theme from Somewhere in Time, though I know that was inspired by Rachmaninoff. This encore was my favorite part of the whole performance. The second encore was from Ginastera’s early period, and was calmly peaceful.
I liked Barbara’s playing style. The only other pianist I’ve watched play for any considerable length of time was Chico Marx, who had a unique style that was meant to make people laugh. Nissman played differently, but she was still entertaining because her posture and facial expressions gave the impression that when she plays, she is completely enamored by the piano. Her sheer joy and love for the piano radiates to the audience.