MUSIC REVIEW : Alicia de Larrocha in Recital at Royce Hall

Alicia de Larrocha’s latest recital program was a curious, but utterly characteristic, thing of clear contrasts and an understated progression from comparative abstraction to full-bodied pictorialism. Tuesday evening at Royce Hall, she paired Schubert with an Iberian group; her previous recital here this season had matched Mendelssohn and Albeniz.

In the overheated hall, the 65-year-old pianist began slowly, with a detached, ill-balanced account of Schubert’s C-minor Impromptu, D. 899, No. 1. She communicated a much greater degree of involvement in a fleet performance of the A-flat Impromptu, No. 4, in the same set.

The Sonata in A, D. 664, elicited a fully engaged performance. Larrocha allowed the sentiment and lyricism gracious space, while keeping formal shapes taut, in direct, evenly modulated playing.

After intermission, Larrocha switched from pastels to primary colors in oil for a set culminating in Turina’s “Sanlucar de Barrameda,” appropriately subtitled “Sonata Pintoresca.” Her boldly etched, expressive playing clarified textures and thematic links as well as painted moods with idiomatic flair.


Larrocha’s complete control of rhythmic and articulative nuance, and her formidable sense of concentrated direction, well served the “Tres Danzas Caracteristicas” of Oscar Espla. She unwound the Habanera with sinuous ease, let the Ronda Serrana glitter naturally, and drove the Sonatina Playera with indomitable zest.

The “Sonatina pour Ivette” by Xavier Montsalvatge is at once austere and playful, aristocratically ordered and vividly earthy. Larrocha set it forth with clarity and brio, alert to inner tensions as well as surface sparkle.

In encore, Larrocha furthered the cause of sophisticated Iberiana with a tenderly introverted account of Mompou’s “El Secreto,” and an intensely vital performance of Falla’s “Dance of Terror” from “El Amor Brujo,” delivered as a single fiery impulse.