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September 26, 2009

Remembering elegant Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha

Physically diminutive but musically grand, Alicia de Larrocha maintained a standard of pianistic elegance that never faded, after more than seven decades before the public. She died on Friday in Barcelona at the age of 86, leaving behind an extensive recorded legacy that preserves her artistry. (Allan Kozinn has, as usual, written an excellent obit in the Times.)

Where Ms. de Larrocha particularly excelled was in Mozart, though she covered a lot of the keyboard repertoire and played it with distinction. I didn't get to hear her live nearly often enough, but I recall well the effect she made -- the technical poise, the refined taste in her phrasing, the beauty of tone, and the total lack of any self-conscious display. She was all music.

Here are some examples of the special art of Alicia de Larrocha:

Posted by Tim Smith at 8:13 AM | | Comments (3)


Oh, this is just _too_ ironic: I was literally _just_ listening (after a break of almost a year) to her (multiple) recordings of Albéniz' "Iberia" and Granados' "Goyescas" -- I have plenty of other worthy recordings of both sets, but Alicia was my first exposure to the works, and, thus, she was always my "home base" in this music, despite criticisms of her technical limitations (which certainly did _not_ interfere with my enjoyment of her take on the music -- one could complain about this just as meaninglessly as one could complain about Cortot or Rubinstein in Chopin!).

The word "poise" certainly rings true for this great artist, who played with such beauty and a superlative command of the instrument. Just last week I was listening to some of her Bach -- her recording of the Italian Concerto (originally on Decca in 1971) is one that I have enjoyed for years.

Back in the early 1980s, I coordinated the International Piano Festival and Competition (later known as the William Kapell Competition). We had the good fortune to have Alicia de Larrocha among us for one of those summer weeks as an adjudicator and performer, and I will never forget the pleasure of standing nearby on stage as she practiced prior to her concert -- a special treat for a young pianist like me -- not to mention the performance itself. She was an extraordinary musician.

Thanks so much for sharing your memories of this wonderful artist. TIM

Alicia was and will always be an inpiration to me. I used to listen to her playing Albeniz over and over. I saw her in Boston Symphony Hall. My regret is that I did not get a chance to shake her hand and to tell her how much she meant to me. I just did a concert in MA and in FL and included some Albeniz in her honor. This way we keep her alive! Thanks Alicia for inspiring me to play Albeniz!

And thanks for adding your tribute to a great artist. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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