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Among ‘the grandes dames of Parisian musical life’ (her students including Collard, Katsaris and Rouvier), Aline van Barentzen (1897-1981), Franco-American, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts. Traumatised by a tyrannical, ambitious mother, she studied in Paris with Marguerite Long and Élie-Miriam Delaborde, gaining the Conservatoire’s premier prix just short of her 12th birthday. Later, she worked with Barth and Dohnányi in Berlin, and won Leschetizky’s approval in Vienna. Was she Weber’s grandniece? Some believe so.

Passing suggestions of breathlessness aside, this retrospect confirms limpid, consummate Gallic pianism, blistering virtuosity searing the wartime HMV 78s of Brahms’ Paganini Variations (learnt in less than a week) and Liszt’s First Mephisto Waltz – both recorded in occupied Paris on the same day in July 1941.

The two books of Villa-Lobos’ Prole do bebê (Pathé 1956) display a crystalline modernist (Enescu, Poulenc, Messiaen, Florent Schmitt, Roussel and Ravel all shared van Barentzen’s circle). Replacing Ricardo Viñes, her 1928 premiere recording of Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, under Piero Coppola, displays unforced beauty and evocación with fingerwork of utmost creaminess.

In Chopin’s Fantaisie and Liszt’s Legend No 2 (1957) she’s theatrical and grand, the music soaring and roaring – contradicting the opinion of certain critics that she could be shallow and given to excessive rubato. The poetic, tonal nuances of her Chopin Nocturne in D-flat Op 27/1 (not 27/2, listed mistakenly by APR) and Liszt’s ‘Un sospiro’, both recorded in 1957, are a lesson in letting music speak for itself, freed of invasive mannerism.

Widely available online, these performances won’t be new to readers. But it’s timely to have such cleanly restored and reliably documented re-transfers. If there’s a regret, it’s that van Barentzen’s muscular, energised Beethoven (including the Waldstein and Appassionata) is not represented. Discographically, Meloclassic MC1021, from German broadcasts in the late ‘50s, partly addresses that gap.

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Piano International, 2020 - ©Rhinegold Publishing