It would hardly be fair to suggest that the piano played the pianist Monday evening at the Music Center Pavilion. Alicia de Larrocha remains an all-encompassing mistress of the instrument.
But the piano in question certainly presented an uncommonly imposing appearance. The 500,000th Steinway comes in a hulking, angular case, decorated with the autographs of more than 800 artists on the Steinway roster. Definitely not a parlor instrument.
Inside is a Steinway that responds readily to every nuance of touch and produces a broad timbral spectrum, qualities Larrocha is supremely gifted to exploit. Her brief printed program, devoted to Mendelssohn and Albeniz, made that point decisively.
The climax of Larrocha’s recital, presented by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was Books I and II of “Iberia,” replacing previously scheduled works by Mompou and Granados. The spontaneous singing melodies and pungent rhythms were in perfect place, stated with the naturalness only unshakeable technical authority can support.
On this occasion, though, Larrocha stressed both the Impressionistic elements, and the jagged dissonant counterpoints that anticipate Falla. She filled in every detail in rich and varied textures, providing radiant sunshine as well as thunder and lightning, in sweeping, ennobling performances.
Larrocha began with four “Songs Without Words,” too sophisticated to underplay the inherent sentiment, though equally sure to avoid exaggeration.
She followed those bonbons with Mendelssohn’s Capriccio in A minor, Opus 33, No. 1, a sometimes awkward piece that provoked her only awkward playing. A weighty, potent, emotionally shadowed account of the neo-Baroque “Variations Serieuses,” Opus 54, concluded the pre-intermission portion.
Her audience, predisposed to cheer, of course, applauded loud and long, eliciting three encores: a crisp, sharply defined Sonata by Soler; a tender, then vibrant “Cancon i Dansa” by Mompou, and a triumphantly outgoing “El Pelele,” from Granados’ “Goyescas.”