Albeniz may not be a great composer, but there are times when Alicia de Larrocha makes him seem like one.
The Spanish pianist devoted herself to all 12 pieces of Albeniz's "Iberia" suite at her recital in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Monday night, a feat she has often accomplished elsewhere but which she has not before offered her large coterie of local admirers.
Larrocha does not strive to make a stunt of the task; the music is in her fingers and in her blood, and she dispenses it freely, without strain or effort.
The technical demands are enormous, but she declines to make a point of them. Her endurance and her concentration are unflagging; the playing, plus three encores, was as fresh and spontaneous at the end as it was at the beginning.
Larrocha has one of the most sensitive pair of hands among contemporary pianists. She has certain physical limitations which she surmounts so deftly that they tend to seem non-existent. She does not wield great muscular power, yet she distributes what she has to such effect that she gives the impression of a much wider tone than is actually present.
She never calls upon a genuine fortissimo, for instance; she makes do with what would not be more than a healthy forte in most pianists by scaling the dynamic range downward in minute degrees to the most fastidious of nuances.
She has only to imagine a shade or an inflection to realize it vividly. If it were possible to measure such things, she must have produced hundreds of kinds of tone color in her penetrating survey of Albeniz. And avoiding all formulas or prescriptions, she gives all her colors an inescapable Spanish tinge. The same is true of the rhythms, so insinuating and so subtle; she never belabors the obvious.
For all the basic sameness of the music, Larrocha delineated each piece with individual character and atmosphere. It would be hard to choose among them, because each was made to seem so complete in itself.
Yet for all her dedication to the project, Larrocha encountered some of the hazards that beset every musician who undertakes to confine a concert to one composer. Most of the audience was plainly enchanted, but a few restless ones made early exits.
The encores were, in order, "The Secret" by Mompou, and two pieces by Albeniz: "Sevilla" and the Tango in D.