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Alicia de Larrocha box set review: Totally unmissable

These complete Alicia de Larrocha recordings show the pianist in her prime, and Decca’s sound is uniformly excellent… totally unmissable!

Alicia de Larrocha 

Complete Decca Recordings,  41 CDs, out now 

Rating:

I shall never forget my first sighting of Alicia de Larrocha in the concert hall. She was barely 5ft tall, with tiny hands. How could she cope with such a large Steinway, I worried. I needn’t have.

She put on a display of dazzling virtuosity and power, always allied to – and this is what made her a great pianist – a musicianship that dug deep into the meaning of all the music she played, whether it was a delicious Spanish rarity or a beloved Mozart concerto.

I shall never forget my first sighting of Alicia de Larrocha in the concert hall. She was barely 5ft tall, with tiny hands. How could she cope with such a large Steinway, I worried. I needn’t have

I shall never forget my first sighting of Alicia de Larrocha in the concert hall. She was barely 5ft tall, with tiny hands. How could she cope with such a large Steinway, I worried. I needn’t have

If I had to choose a desert-island disc or two, it would have to be Granados’s Goyesas, or Albéniz’s hugely demanding cycle, Iberia. I don’t expect to hear either better done

If I had to choose a desert-island disc or two, it would have to be Granados’s Goyesas, or Albéniz’s hugely demanding cycle, Iberia. I don’t expect to hear either better done

In a liner note to this box set, the conductor André Previn, himself no mean pianist, writes: ‘Her musicianship was perfection, her technique flawless, and her grasp of style, a dream.’ He especially recalls the recordings he made with her of both the Mozart Double Concerto and the Sonata For Two Pianos. ‘I practised and practised so that I would not disappoint her, and her approval meant the world to me.’

Seven Mozart concertos and three albums of Mozart sonatas are included here. Also a fine – albeit, in the choice of cadenzas, a bit old-fashioned – Beethoven concerto cycle with Riccardo Chailly.

Larrocha refused to be typecast as a Spanish player of Spanish music. So there’s also Bach, Handel, Chopin and Schumann, as well as a dazzling Rachmaninov Third Concerto, included in this 41-CD set, a real snip at around £80.

But it is, of course, the Spanish stuff where Larrocha had unique authority. It always surprises me, given the number of Brits who go every year to the Costa Packet, that Spanish music isn’t more popular here. And Larrocha effortlessly shows what so many miss out on, with some magnificent Granados (who was lost in the Channel in 1916 after an E-boat torpedoed a British liner), Albéniz and the 20th-century miniaturist Mompou.

Her account of De Falla’s magnificent Nights In The Gardens Of Spain has never been surpassed. There are also delicious rarities here, like, on that same album, her mentor Joaquín Turina’s Concerto Sinfonico, and a delightful Albéniz cook-up by Cristóbal Halffter called the Rapsodia Espanola.

If I had to choose a desert-island disc or two, it would have to be Granados’s Goyesas, or Albéniz’s hugely demanding cycle, Iberia. I don’t expect to hear either better done.

Larrocha died in her mid-80s in 2009. These recordings show her in her prime, and Decca’s sound is uniformly excellent. Totally unmissable.

 

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