Friday, September 25, 2009

RIP Alicia de Larrocha

Alicia de Larrocha, a diminutive Spanish pianist esteemed for her elegant Mozart performances and regarded as an incomparable interpreter of Albéniz, Granados, Mompou and other Spanish composers, died this evening in a hospital in Barcelona; she had been in declining health since breaking her hip two years ago. She was 86.

Ms. de Larrocha specialized, yea owned, music that demanded focus, compactness and a subtle coloristic touch. Her Mozart, Bach and Scarlatti were so carefully detailed and light in texture that even as public taste shifted toward more period-instrument style, her performances remained popular and even definitive. She was closely associated with the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, where she first performed in 1971. Her appearances remained among the festival’s hottest tickets until her final performance there in 2003.

Ms. de Larrocha’s most enduring contribution, however, was her championship of Spanish composers. She made enduring recordings of Albéniz’s “Iberia” and Granados’ “Goyescas,” and helped ease those works into the standard piano repertoire. She almost single-handedly built a following for Federico Mompou, a Catalan composer of quiet, poetic works.

Although she was often regarded as partial to Granados — her mother and an aunt were among his piano students, but he died before Ms. de Larrocha was born — she refused to cite a favorite.

Thankfully, her recordings survive as monuments to the art of the piano.

On a personal note, I did a bad thing as a college student, but 33 years later I still remember every bit of it. It involved Ms. de Larrocha.

I volunteered as a tour guide at the University of Illinois Krannert Center while attending school there. After conducting a tour I noted on the board that the Great Hall was reserved from 3-4 pm for Ms de Larrocha who was performing that evening. Knowing all the entrances and exits, I snuck quietly into the hall and sure enough, she came out to test the piano and warm up. Her assistant or whoever left, not noticing me up in the darkened balcony. Ms de Larrocha warmed up and then played Alborada del Gracioso, plus "Triana" and the "Rondeña" from Albeniz's "Iberia" just for me. I chickened out and left after that. Totally stupid on my part, but since then I have been an ardent fan of this diminutive lady with a big smile and passion for her art. I attended the concert that night which consisted of the Ravel, Mozart "Turkish" Sonata and selections from Iberia. It was amazing.

Where is my copy of Iberia, I must listen to it!

RIP great lady. Thank you.

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