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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]

Although remembered as an exponent of the French Piano School, Aline van Barentzen was actually born in Somerville, Massachusetts, USA in 1897. Her mother acted as her first piano teacher. Her parents divorced when she was quite young, and her mother renounced her husband’s surname Hoyle, resorting back to her maiden name van Barentzen. Progress on the piano was swift for young Aline, and aged only nine she was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, becoming a pupil of Marguerite Long and Élie-Miriam Delaborde. Later she studied with Heinrich Barth and Ernő Dohnányi in Berlin and Theodor Leschetizky in Vienna. Jordan Hall, Boston was the venue for her USA debut in 1912, and a year later she played in London. When she returned to the States, she took up a teaching position at the Philadelphia Conservatory, and later she taught at the conservatory in Buenos Aires. Further tours took her as far afield as Mozambique, Angola and Tunisia. In the 1930's she took up French citizenship, and in 1954 settled with her husband in Paris, becoming a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. Her students included Jean-Philippe Collard and Cyprien Katsaris. She died in Paris in 1981.

This collection brings together the pianist's earliest 78 rpm recordings, made for HMV in June 1928, with later ones from the 1940s. We also have her Pathé LP recordings, set down between 1956-1958. I was interested to discover how her first recording came about. She met the conductor Piero Coppola and the director of French HMV at a reception held at the Paris headquarters of the piano firm Gaveau. She was asked if she knew Falla's Noches en los Jardines de España. She said she did, which wasn't true. Ricardo Viñes, who was meant to make the premier recording with Coppola, had been taken ill.  Van Barentzen bravely stepped into the breach, learning it in three days, and made the recording we have here, much to the great satisfaction of the composer. Four days later she recorded Falla's Andaluza as a filler for the sixth side. The sultry Noches is given an idiomatic and characterful reading, with both pianist and conductor highlighting the rich panoply of colours in Falla's orchestration. The final panel of the triptych, Sierra de Córdoba, showcases the ferocity of the composer's exuberant scoring. The recording is in respectable sound for its age.

The four Brahms items date from the 1940s. The Paganini Variations, of which we have both books, are intrepid, audacious and gripping, with the technical challenges met head on. The Intermezzo in E flat major, Op. 117, No. 1 is matter of fact, dry and lifeless and lacks the poetry one finds in the recordings of Arthur Rubinstein and Radu Lupu. Liszt's Mephisto Waltz might not dazzle or be as thrilling as William Kapell's, but it thrills with virtuosic bravura, nevertheless. Pierre Vellones' Toccata is a rarity, its sparkling finger work crystal clear in this alluring performance.

Five pieces by Chopin were recorded for Pathé in early 1957. In the Fantasy in F minor, the sobriety of the opening march theme contrasts with the passionate intensity to come. The Op. 27 Nocturne, which follows, is incorrectly labelled as No. 2 in D flat, whereas it is, in fact, No. 1 in C sharp minor that we hear. The three études are glowing accounts, Op.25, No. 1 especially. Nick-named ‘Aeolian Harp’, it flows seamlessly, with the soprano melody elegantly shaped over a discreet arpeggiated left hand figuration. St François de Paule marchant sur les flots (St. Francis walks on the waves) is as bold and impassioned as any version I've heard. The recordings of Books 1 and 2 of Villa-Lobos' Prole do Bebê date from 1956. Van Barentzen was a friend of the composer, and he dedicated Book 2 to her. The performances are ample proof of the great affinity the pianist had for Spanish music, and her take on these works is idiomatic, imaginative and enhanced with colouristic skill.  Van Barentzen recorded six Beethoven sonatas around the same time as these 1950's recordings; they’re sadly not included in this compilation.

The superb tranfers and remasterings, courtesy of Robert Cowlin of the British Library and the International Piano Archives at the University of Maryland, without doubt achieve the desired result. Jonathan Summers' scholarly notes offer everything the listener could possibly want. All told, this is a desirable release, more so for people like myself who are coming face to face with van Barentzen's artistry for the first time. 
Stephen Greenbank

Brahms, Johannes
Intermezzi (3), op.117
» no.1 in E flat major
Klavierstucke (8), op.76
» no.2 Capriccio in B minor
Variations (28) on a theme of Paganini, op.35
Chopin, Frederic
Etudes (12), op.10
» no.5 in G flat major 'Black Key Study'
Etudes (12), op.25
» no.1 in A flat major
» no.11 in A minor
Fantasy in F minor, op.49
Nocturnes (21)
» no.8 in D flat major, op.27 no.2
Falla, Manuel de
Noches en los Jardines de Espana (Nights in the Gardens of Spain)*
Piezas espanolas (4)
» no.4 Andaluza
Orchestre symphonique du Gramophone/Piero Coppola*

Liszt, Franz
Concert Etudes (3), S144
» no.3 Un sospiro
Legendes (2), S175
» no.2 St Francois de Paule: marchant sur les flots
Mephisto Waltz no.1, S514 'Der Tanz in der Dorfschenke'

Vellones, Pierre
Toccata, op.74
Villa-Lobos, Heitor
Choros no.5 'Alma Brasileira'
Prole do bebe, Book 1
Prole do bebe, Book 2

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