Obituary: Brigitte Engerer, pianist

Charlotte Smith5th Jul 2012
French pianist Brigitte Engerer has died, aged 59 (photo: Damien Meyer/AFP/GettyFrench pianist Brigitte Engerer has died, aged 59 (photo: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

The French pianist Brigitte Engerer was never a household name - and virtually unknown in Britain where she rarely performed – but was a popular and highly respected figure in the profession. Her chamber music collaborations proved particularly rewarding with such artists as the violinists Régis Pasquier, Olivier Charlier and cellist Henri Demarquette, but none more so than with fellow pianist Boris Berezovsky. The affection they held for each other communicated itself vividly in their recordings of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes and Hungarian Dances, two of Rachmaninov’s Suites and little known duet arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty.

Of Maltese decent, Brigitte Engerer was born in Tunis on 27 October 1952 and began playing the piano at the age of three. Having given her first public concert aged six, she studied at the Paris Conservatoire before moving to Moscow in 1969 to study at the Conservatory there with Stanislas Neuhaus whose father, Heinrich, an equally important teacher, had been a pupil of Godowsky. Engerer had a reasonably successful time during the 1970s but it was not until Herbert von Karajan heard a recording of her playing Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy that her career really took off. Having invited her to audition for him, Karajan immediately engaged her to play with the Berlin Philharmonic. The international engagements flowed thereafter, and she found herself working with Mehta, Barenboim, Ozawa and other top league names. She recorded for several major labels, among them Decca, Philips, Naïve and Harmonia Mundi. 

Her playing, reflected in the warmth and generosity of her personality, is best characterised as a mixture of the French school with its playfulness and lucidity, and the full-bodied Russian tradition. She had an adventurous spirit when it came to repertoire, recording Liszt’s Via Crucis (usually done with organ), Brahms’s four-hand piano arrangement of his German Requiem (the so-called London version) with Berezovsky, chamber works and solos by Louise Farrenc (1804-75), all three of Grieg’s Violin Sonatas, works by Rachmaninov for four and six hands, and coupling the Piano Concertos of Robert and Clara Schumann.

Brigitte Engerer’s chic Gallic femininity went hand in hand with her fondness for Gauloises cigarettes. She died of cancer in Paris on June 23, 2012 aged 59.

Jeremy Nicholas

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