NEW YORK — Brigitte Engerer, a Russian-trained French pianist known for her immense sound, prodigious technique, and probing musicality, died June 23 in Paris. She was 59.
The cause was cancer, according to her agent, Bureau de Concerts de Valmalete.
Ranked among the world’s foremost pianists, Ms. Engerer was better known in Europe than in North America. This appeared to owe at least partly to the fact that her style was a singular amalgam of fiery Russian emotionalism and cool French rationalism, which left US concert presenters unable to pigeonhole her tidily.
Ms. Engerer specialized in the work of Russian and French composers — Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Saint-Saens — as well as that of Robert Schumann. A prizewinner in major international competitions, including the Tchaikovsky and the Queen Elisabeth, she collaborated with some of the world’s most eminent conductors, among them Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, and Daniel Barenboim.
Her recitals on both sides of the Atlantic and her appearances with leading orchestras drew enthusiastic notices.
Writing in The New York Times in 1984, Bernard Holland reviewed Ms. Engerer’s New York Philharmonic debut, performing Tchaikovsky’s B-flat Minor Concerto:
‘‘It was not just huge sound and Rolls-Roycean octave technique that impressed,’’ he wrote. ‘‘Miss Engerer’s feats of dexterity were achieved at no sacrifice of richness and color.’’
Brigitte Engerer was born in Tunis, Tunisia. She began piano lessons at 4, and was performing in public by age 6. When she was 11, the family moved to France, where she became a pupil of Lucette Descaves at the Paris Conservatoire.
At 17, Ms. Engerer decided to study in Russia, an unusual move for a Western musician in the Iron Curtain era. She was awarded a scholarship to the Moscow Conservatory, where she studied with Stanislav Neuhaus. She planned to stay a year but — despite the unfamiliar language and the hardships of the period — fell viscerally in love with the country and remained for nine years.
‘‘She really came back to Paris as a Russian pianist,’’ said Charles Timbrell, who interviewed her for his book ‘‘French Pianism: A Historical Perspective’’ (1999). ‘‘She played with a lot of spontaneity: it was temperamental playing, but it was not overly showy. Like her personality, it was warm and vivacious and very direct.’’
Ms. Engerer, who taught at the Paris Conservatoire, was active as a chamber musician.
Her recordings include Liszt’s ‘‘Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses,’’ Mussorgsky’s ‘‘Pictures at an Exhibition,’’ and Schumann concertos.
Ms. Engerer, who lived in Paris, was divorced from Yann Queffelec, a French novelist. She leaves a daughter, Leonore; a son, Harold; her father, Edgard; and a sister, Christel.
In an interview in 1992 with The Washington Times, Ms. Engerer described the artistic rewards of her binational approach to the keyboard.
‘‘I need the transparency of the French piano — and, more important, the rationality of French philosophy,’’ she said. ‘‘But I needed some of the Russian craziness in my playing. I still do.’’