ALICIA DE LARROCHA
Larrocha was the third of four children, her father having studied piano with Enrique Granados. At the age of four she began piano lessons with Frank Marshall, an Englishman living in Spain, and at eleven was playing Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ Concerto K. 537 in public with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. Around 1940 Larrocha gave concerts in Spain and seven years later toured Europe, playing outside of Spain for the first time. Upon the death of Frank Marshall in 1959, Larrocha and her husband took over the running of the Acadèmia Marshall in Barcelona.
Larrocha has always been associated with the music of her native Spain. At her Wigmore Hall debut the critic of The Times did not like her Bach–Busoni or Schumann, commenting on her ‘relentless metallic brilliance’. He had to concede however that ‘When she came to her own compatriots Granados and Albéniz, it was a different story.’ At her American debut Larrocha played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and Alfred Wallenstein, and just over a year later gave her New York debut recital at Town Hall. Although she did not return to America for ten years, in the interim touring Europe and teaching at the Acadèmia Marshall, she was invited to sign a contract with Herbert Breslin after an American agent heard her recordings. She played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major K. 488 with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and William Steinberg. That concert, and a recital two weeks later, received rave reviews. From then on Larrocha would give around one hundred concerts each year playing in Europe, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Israel, South Africa and the Middle East. She was awarded the Medallo d’oro by the City of Barcelona, and in the same year another gold medal by the Spanish National Assembly. In the 2002–2003 season, when she was eighty, Alicia de Larrocha decided to retire from the concert platform. Her final public appearance, in November 2002, was given in New York’s Carnegie Hall where she played Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major K. 414 in a version for string quartet with the Tokyo Quartet.
Larrocha’s repertoire ranges from Bach through Mozart and Beethoven to Schumann and the Romantics, extending as far as Rachmaninov. She is, of course noted for her playing of Spanish music and gave premières of works by Mompou and Montsalvatge. She has also worked with sopranos Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballé and Pilar Lorengar. In 1956 she formed a partnership with cellist Gaspar Cassadó and later worked with the Tokyo String Quartet.
Larrocha made her first recording in 1932 when she was nine years old, having been taken, along with her aunt and Frank Marshall, to a recording session at Odéon’s studios in Barcelona by Conchita Supervia. She recorded Chopin’s Waltz in A minor Op. 34 No. 2 and Nocturne in B major Op. 32 No. 1. From the late 1950s Larrocha recorded for Hispavox, EMI, Decca and BMG/RCA.
Her recordings of the Spanish repertoire have become classics of the gramophone, and in the last five decades she has recorded many of these works more than once. She has recorded Albéniz’s Iberiaand Granados’s Goyescas four times each, but the fact is that in this repertoire Larrocha really has no peer, and any of her versions are nearly always going to be first choice. The earlier recordings, made for Hispavox in the late 1950s and early 1960s, have been issued by EMI. They suffer from a harshly recorded piano tone and an instrument which is often not perfectly in tune. Probably the best of the Spanish music recordings are those made for Decca in the early and mid-1970s, and in 1998 eight compact discs were issued of this material by Decca in four volumes entitled Música Española—Música para Piano I–IV. Apart from classic performances of Albéniz’s Iberiaand Granados’s Goyescas, there are also some perfectly played sonatas by Soler and seven pieces from Mompou’s Cançons i danses.
Apart from Spanish music, Larrocha has recorded Beethoven’s complete piano concertos with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and Riccado Chailly. She is also known for her performances of Mozart, having recorded the complete piano sonatas, and some of the piano concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra and Sir Colin Davis for RCA. In 1993 she recorded Mozart’s Sonata in D major K. 448 for two pianos and the Concerto in E flat K. 365 for two pianos with André Previn. It is a delightful recording, warm, relaxed and never driven.
Larrocha’s recordings for Decca during the 1970s and 1980s show her wide range of repertoire. Bach’s Italian Concerto BWV 971 and French Suite in E major BWV 817 show that her Bach is warm and genial, like that of Tatyana Nikolayeva. She has also recorded Busoni’s transcription of the Chaconne for solo violin. Other major nineteenth-century works include Chopin’s complete Préludes Op. 28, Schubert’s Piano Sonata in B flat D. 960, Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor and Schumann’s Fantasie in C major Op. 17. During the Decca period, Larrocha recorded works with orchestra that include Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21, Schumann’s Piano Concerto Op. 54, Khachaturian’s Piano Concerto and Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand. All these recordings and more were collected in an excellent 80th birthday tribute boxed set by Decca entitled The Art of Alicia de Larrocha.
At nearly seventy-five years of age, Larrocha recorded a disc of Mendelssohn and Chopin for BMG/RCA. She tackles large works of Chopin including the Barcarolle Op. 60 and Polonaise-Fantaisie Op. 61, but sometimes in Chopin her rubato sounds slightly mannered. The other BMG/RCA recordings from the 1990s include re-recordings of Schumann’s Fantasie Op. 17 plus his Humoreske Op. 20, a Ravel disc of both concertos, the Sonatine and Valses nobles et sentimentales, another version of Granados’s Goyescas, another Schumann Piano Concerto plus his Piano Quintet Op. 44 with the Tokyo String Quartet, a disc of Falla and Montsalvatge, and more Mozart. Particularly fine are Tres divertimentos by Montsalvatge, displaying Larrocha’s boundless range of colours, touch and delicate intimacy.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).