The Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha (1923-2009) had an established career and several recordings behind her when she changed agents and signed with Herbert Breslin, who famously managed Pavarotti. (“Managed” is the word!) Breslin got Larrocha a contract with Decca and made her an international star. She was best known for her strength in Spanish music; I heard her play Albéniz’s immensely taxing Iberia live in London in the 1970s, and was amazed by her stamina. As these reissues reveal, another area she was at home in was music of the Classical and pre-Classical periods – perhaps because she had small hands.
The three-disc set gives us Mozart’s Piano Sonatas Nos. 4, 8, 9, 10, 11 Alla Turca, 12, 14, 16 and 18, the Fantasia in D Minor, and two recordings of the Fantasia in C Minor. Larrocha’s Mozart is not over-refined, but focussed on clarity and legato of line. Her unaffected approach puts no interpretative quotation marks around the Rondo from the Alla Turca, or the first movement of the C Major Sonata facile, even though both are almost hackneyed in their familiarity. Her Haydn Concerto in D is delightfully breezy.
In Scarlatti her pianism is fluid in an unostentatious way: compared to the virtuoso readings of Pletnev she is content to let the music speak for itself. Soler, being Spanish, was one of her specialties and she brings his music vividly to life.
The final disc is mostly taken up by Frühbeck de Burgos’s flashy orchestration of Albéniz’s Suite Española, originally for piano. This virtuoso arrangement, performance and recording dates from 1969. Larrocha figures only in the two smaller works, which can also be heard on an earlier Eloquence release with dazzling piano concertos by Xavier Montsalvatge and Carlos Surinach that I find preferable.