Alicia De Larrocha, the grande dame of Spanish piano music, practically invented Enrique Granados and Isaac Albéniz. Both composers had existed of course, and written exquisitely vivid, intensely romantic evocations of their native Spain. But with her finesse, light tone and flawless fingers, De Larrocha converted their masterworks from bits of local color into global classics. She began early and with conviction: These recordings date from the 1959-1963, and they have a matchless dexterity and freshness. “El Albaicín,” from Ibéria, begins with minimalist vamping that almost presages Philip Glass and segues into rhythmic, rolled chords that imitate the rasgueado strum of flamenco guitar. Innumerable composers have used similar folkloric flourishes, but De Larrocha brings out the delicacy and precision of Albéniz’ writing. It’s possible that the superbly dignified Catalonian pianist made excursions to the sort of gypsy encampments and harborfront dives that engendered the music’s “Spanishness,” but her real and indisputable power came from her ability to balance its guttural origins with its refined expression. In Granados’ “El fandango de Candil,” she keeps the slow, steady, sexy stomp in tension with the melody’s seductive elasticity, making this a sophisticated dance in the tradition of Chopin’s polonaises, Mozart’s minuets, and Bach’s gavottes.
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Stream the Punch Brothers documentary 'How to Grow a Band' this week.
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