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
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.
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.