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Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Ibéria (1906-9) [84:58]
Navarra (1909) [5:53]
Suite Española (1886) [27:31]
Alicia de Larrocha (piano)
rec. October 1986 (Iberia), December 1986 (remainder), Concert Hall, University Music School, Cambridge
DECCA 4780388 [64:12 + 61:11] 
Experience Classicsonline

Albéniz studied with Liszt, and his greatest achievement, the four volumes of
Iberia, marks him out as that master’s true heir. Composed during the last years of Albéniz’s tragically short life, this collection therefore forms the summit of his creative work. As such it is among the most rewarding and demanding of challenges that any pianist can undertake. 

Alicia de Larrocha has always been associated with this music, being the leading Spanish pianist of recent times - she has recorded Iberia three times. This version dates from 1986 and is as fine as any as an interpretation, while also featuring superlative Decca digital sound that succeeds in capturing the music’s full tonal possibilities. 

Some of these movements are substantial in scale. Almeria, for example, is ten minutes in duration, and therefore the challenge to the performer requires command of architecture and direction as much as of keyboard technique. The latter de Larrocha possesses in abundance but she wears her skills lightly and never sets out to astonish through parading her virtuosity. In comparing her performances with those of her closest rival, Marc André Hamelin (see review), it is true that the latter waves the virtuoso flag more vigorously, though always in appropriate and sensitive fashion. Either performance will satisfy, and perhaps the couplings will take on a special importance for the potential purchaser. 

Ibéria is slightly too lengthy a collection to fit within the confines of a single CD, and the second disc therefore requires additional material in order to make the recorded collection marketable. Hamelin opts for several pieces from the later stages of Albéniz’s career, La vega, Yvonne en visite!, España and Navarra, whereas de Larrocha has the particularly appealing Suite Española, plus Navarra. The latter is the unfinished single movement Albéniz omitted from the fourth and final volume of Ibéria. An interesting comparison here is that Hamelin opts for the completion by William Bolcom; de Larrocha for the better known but more perfunctory version by Déodat de Séverac. 

The Suite Española dates from twenty years earlier and is understandably less sophisticated in style. The very directness becomes the music’s strength, with all but one of the numbers relying upon that most familiar of musical constructions, a central contrast contained within an overall ternary design. Each number of the suite is appealing and frequently memorable in its melodic personality and rhythmic verve. These characteristics are maximized in these performances. As such this makes an ideal coupling for the more substantial Ibéria collection: the perfect foil, one might say. 

Presented in a slim folding case with excellent and thorough booklet notes by Lionel Salter, this remastering of undoubtedly great performances forms a notable addition to the catalogue. 

Terry Barfoot 



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