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Aline van Barentzen (piano)
Her Earliest Recordings and Chopin, Liszt & Villa-Lobos
rec. 1928-1957
APR 6031 [73:28 + 74:16]

Whilst Aline van Barentzen died as recently as 1981 and made a number of LPs hers is possibly amongst the least well-remembered name of the French School releases thus far in APR’s invaluable edition.

Born in America in 1897 she moved to Paris with her mother four years later. At the age of nine in 1906 she was accepted as the Paris Conservatoire’s youngest student, studying with Marguerite Long and Élie-Miriam Dalaborde (the illegitimate son of Alkan) before her domineering mother – who once claimed she would shoot the child dead if she didn’t win First Prize in piano before she was twelve (she won the prize) – took her to Berlin to play for eminent musicians, Dohnányi and Leschetitzky among them. It’s never properly been established whether van Barentzen was, as sometimes claimed, Carl Maria von Weber’s grandniece.

Her recordings are exceptionally fine examples of the French school. She must have been a remarkably quick study because her very first recording was not the kind of solo entrée into the medium that one might have predicted – some limpid Chopin, maybe, or incendiary Liszt. The great pianist Ricardo Viñes, booked to make the first ever recording of Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España, withdrew because of illness. She met the conductor Piero Coppola by chance at a party and told him, when asked, that she knew the work (she didn’t) and thus had three days to learn and record it. The recording is somewhat airless, but Coppola’s orchestra is finely supportive, with some luscious slides in the final panel of the work, and she plays with real distinction, pianistically and in terms of expressive character. The last side of this set was given over to her solo Andaluza, reinforcing her idiomatic control of Iberian lexicon.

This was an auspicious start to her recording career, but we have to jump to wartime Paris for more examples of her art. Still, the wait is worth it. Brahms’ Variations on a theme by Paganini, both books, were recorded on a single day, 15 July, and all were first takes – unlike the Falla Noches, which had all been second takes. Her playing is lean and lithe, clear, colourful and witty and with no splintering in fortes. The Intermezzo in E flat major is straight, the Capriccio in B minor, crisp and alive. The Mephisto Waltz No.1 and a rare example of the music of Pierre Vellones (he had died a couple of years before) were also recorded on the same day as her Brahms-Paganini. She clearly combined digital accuracy with admirable stamina.

Though she recorded four Beethoven sonatas in 1948 and a few other pieces, we pick her up again recording LPs for Pathé in 1956-57. The two Liszt pieces are grandly conceived and played with compelling authority. There are five works by Chopin. There are some stormy accelerandi in the Fantasy in F minor – a little too much for my own taste – whilst the Nocturne in D flat minor (Op.27 No.1 not No.2 as per the booklet) is well voiced. The Etudes were part of her practice regime and always at her fingertips. The twofer ends with both books of Villa-Lobos’s A Prole do Bebê, This is especially significant as she was the dedicatee of Book II but beyond even this, the playing is so precise and crystalline, so packed full of character – limpid, full of verve and dense with glittering atmosphere - that it’s impossible to ignore.

Excellently transferred and with a booklet written by the perceptive Jonathan Summers, this is an august entrant in the French Classics series.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

Falla: Noches en los jardines de España [20:57]
Orchestre Symphonique du Gramophone/Piero Coppola
Cuatro piezas españolas: No. 4, Andaluza [3:26]
Brahms: Variations on a theme by Paganini in A minor, Books I and II, Op. 35 [16:50]
Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117 No. 1, Andante moderato [3:07]
Klavierstücke (8), Op. 76 No. 2, Cappriccio [2:56]
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz No. 1 [8:38]
Vellones: Toccata, Op. 74 [4:09]
Liszt: Three Concert Studies, S144 / R5:No.3 in D flat major, Un sospiro [5:20]
Legendes (2) for piano, S. 175 No. 2, St. François de Paule [8:00]
Chopin: Fantasia in F minor, Op. 49 [12:18]
Nocturnes, Op. 27 No.1 [5:08]
Études, Op. 10 No. 5 in G-Flat Major "Black Keys" [1:41]
Études, Op. 25 No. 1 in A-Flat Major "Aeolian Harp"[2:52]: No. 11 in A Minor "Winter Wind"
Villa-Lobos: A Prole do Bebê, Book 1 [15:13]: Book 2, W180 [28:56]
Chôros No. 5, W207 "Alma Brasiliera" [4:31]

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