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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas: Book 1 (1911)
Los requiebros [8:22]; Coloquio en la reja [10:21]; El fandango de candil [5:30]; Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor [6:23]; El amor y la muerte [12:22]; Serenata del espectro [7:34]; El pelele [4:13]
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Iberia: Books 1-4 (1905-8)
Evocación [5:35]; El Puerto [4:09]; Corpus Christi en Sevilla [8:06]; Rondeña [7:10]; Almería [9:01]; Triana [5:16]; El Albaicín [6:45]; El Polo [6:44]; Lavapiés [6:18]; Malaga [4:30]; Jerez [8:41]; Eritaña [5:25]; Navarra [5:28]; Azulejos [8:30];
Alicia de Larrocha (piano)
rec. Spain, 1962/3 by Hispavox (no other details). ADD
EMI GREAT RECORDINGS OF THE CENTURY 3 61514 2 [72:47 + 73:57]

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Although there are some formidable pianists represented in the catalogue in this repertoire, it’s pretty fair to say that Alicia de Larrocha has reigned supreme in these works for nearly half a century. Indeed, she has recorded the main works, Goyescas and Iberia at least three times, and they have been a mainstay of her concert life from a very early age.

This GROC reissue represents her first traversal of these wonderfully evocative pieces, taped in Spain by Hispavox in the early 1960s. To many collectors, de Larrocha will be her own fiercest rival, mainly with her later Decca version, made around 1976 and competitively packaged as a budget Double Decca. The comparison between the two is fascinating and could present some difficult decision-making among collectors wanting to investigate this endlessly rewarding music.

In Los requiebros, the opening piece in Goyescas, de Larrocha displays her flair for the dance-oriented rhythms that underpin so much of this music. But what sets her playing apart from the crowd is the ease and complete naturalness of her rubato, those little pulls and pushes of the rhythmic undercurrent that sound so easy and spontaneous. It’s no surprise to read in confirmed de Larrocha fan Bryce Morrison’s enthusiastic liner-note, that one of her early idols was Artur Rubinstein, particularly his Chopin. Some of that same conversation-like flexibility of tempo and rubato is evident here. Her pedalling is also very special, so that even the stormiest passages and thorniest textures are never muddied. The bell-like passage in the coda of Goyescas’s longest, darkest piece El amor y la muerte (Love and death) is exquisitely handled, the sheer intensity of the playing almost unbearable. The sense of relief that follows in the lighter El Pelele, another Rubinstein encore favourite, is almost palpable, Larrocha revelling in the musical imagery of the straw man being tossed in the blanket.

Iberia shows us another side of the Spanish temperament, this time the Andalucian inspiration tinged throughout with Lisztian bravura. Ernest Newman rated these pieces as highly as anything in the repertoire and would surely have loved Larrocha’s command of the ebb and flow as well as the truly frightening demands made on the pianist by Albeniz, himself a keyboard virtuoso. The sultry nocturne that opens the set, Evocación, is memorable for her control of the inner voices and one can only marvel how easy she makes it all sound. The glorious little pasodoble number Triana, with its almost Petrushka-like tonalities and mock guitar strumming, is a delight. She also voices the ambiguous chords of Lavapiés in such a way that makes Messiaen’s enthusiasm for this music so understandable.

This is all musicianship and pianism of an exalted nature, what pianophile Bryce Morrison calls playing of ‘unforgettable swagger, assurance and seduction’. She is on record as stating disarmingly ‘When I’m gone, my only wish is that people will have had some enjoyment from my work’. On the strength of this one set alone, she need have no fear of ever being forgotten.

I suppose the dilemma of her two sets could be best summed up thus: the later Decca is, predictably, better recorded but has playing of marginally less fire and spontaneity, this earlier EMI has patchy audio quality, with plenty of hiss and a slightly harder piano tone but unrivalled virtuosity and colour. Indeed, hearing the young de Larrocha on such barnstorming form is truly thrilling, so much so that audio considerations really do pale into insignificance. The Decca ‘twofer’ is around half the price of the EMI, at least at a couple of internet sites I visited, so does make exceptional value, but the playing of the fiery young Spaniard in the early 1960s is something very special and is self-recommending.

Tony Haywood 



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