If you love this repertoire, the inevitable comparison is with Alicia de Larrocha. She brought an unforgettable combination of sensitivity, fire and seeming spontaneity to this music, and had a knack of drawing your attention to the most original aspects of Falla’s style; on this new disc Garrick Ohlsson makes you more aware of the composers to whom Falla was indebted. When you hear the Four Spanish Pieces, you’re not surprised to learn that Ohlsson is much-admired in Chopin and Brahms. This is exquisite playing, with an easy rubato that gives you time to admire the filigree moments in Falla’s design.
The transcriptions (by the composer) of dances from The Three-Cornered Hat and Love the Magician sound vibrantly pianistic – so much so, in Ohlsson’s hands, that you don’t necessarily feel you’re missing out. How did all that orchestral colour become so convincing in black and white?
Sometimes Ohlsson’s playing could be more abandoned (as in the final bars of the Dance of the Miller’s Wife), but in quieter moments (check out the closing minutes of the Pantomime from Love the Magician) there is a lot to savour. The disc ends with a spectacular reading of the biggest work here, the Fantasia Baetica, a virtuoso showpiece that – as the excellent booklet tells you – sounds at times like “Scarlatti re-written by Bartók.” The recording captures the sound of Ohlsson’s Steinway with clarity and spaciousness.