The Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, one of the most stylish players of her generation, has died in Barcelona aged 86.
A brilliant interpreter of Chopin, Beethoven and Mozart, de Larrocha will probably be best remembered as a performer without equal when it came to Spanish/Catalan composers such as Granados, Albéniz and Mompou.
Born in the Catalan capital in 1923, de Larrocha showed her ability as a pianist at an astonishingly early age – she was playing Grieg tunes on the piano at just two. Wisely protected from exposure as a child prodigy by her family, she nevertheless made her concerto debut with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra at 11. Further concert appearances after that were, however, largely stymied by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Only after the Second World War was over did Larrocha’s international career take off. Tours to Britain and the United States in the early 1950s saw her cement her reputation as a pianist of sparkling brilliance, whose light touch was ideally suited to bringing out the finer points of Mozart and Chopin. If her small hands – she was also just 4’9" tall – brought potential problems in some works, she overcame them with her own carefully worked out fingerings.
Her mastery of the classics was partly due to her teacher, Frank Marshall, who had insisted that she concentrate on them as she developed as a player and leave Spanish music well alone until her late teens. However, as her career progressed, that Spanish music became something of a calling card. She recorded Albéniz’s formidably difficult Iberia four times, while her various recordings of works such Granados’s Goyescas continue to have few rivals in the catalogue.
De Larrocha eventually retired from the concert stage in 2003, aged 80.