Alicia de Larrocha Complete Decca Recordings 41 CDs, out now ★★★★★
I shall never forget my first sighting of Alicia de Larrocha. She was barely 5ft tall, with tiny hands. How could she cope with such a large Steinway, I worried. I needn’t have. She put on a display of dazzling virtuosity and power, allied to – and this is what made her a great pianist – a musicianship that dug deep into the meaning of the music she played. Seven Mozart concertos and three albums of Mozart sonatas are included here. Also a fine Beethoven concerto cycle with Riccardo Chailly. Larrocha refused to be typecast as a Spanish player of Spanish music. So there’s also Bach, Handel, Chopin and Schumann, as well as Rachmaninov’s Third Concerto, included in this 41-CD set, a real snip at around €90. But it is the Spanish stuff where Larrocha had unique authority. Here, she effortlessly plays some magnificent Granados, Albéniz and Mompou. Her account of De Falla’s magnificent Nights In The Gardens Of Spain has never been surpassed. There are also delicious rarities here, like, on that same album, her mentor Joaquín Turina’s Concerto Sinfonico, and a delightful Albéniz cook-up by Cristóbal Halffter called the Rapsodia Espanola. If I had to choose a desert-island disc or two, it would have to be Granados’s Goyecas, or Albéniz’s hugely demanding cycle, Iberia. I don’t expect to hear either better done. Larrocha died in her mid-80s in 2009. These recordings show her in her prime. Totally unmissable.