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MUSIC REVIEW

Subdued Playing From De Larrocha

November 12, 1996|TIMOTHY MANGAN

In her latest recital at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, pianist Alicia de Larrocha went in for some pointed programming. The music of the undisputed master Bach sat next to that of Enrique Granados, a composer she has long championed but who still lacks the recognition he deserves.

Her program seemed to argue that the Spaniard's music could survive close proximity with the blaze of Bach. But in the event, the argument never arose. There was no fire in sight in both cases.

The 73-year-old musician didn't push points. Her playing Sunday was laissez faire--pleasant, professional and beautifully colored but minus strong purpose, disengaged. Always a gentle and subtle pianist anyway, this night she skirted that fine line between elegant understatement and not saying anything at all.

In Granados's "El Pelele" and the first four pieces of "Goyescas" (all five works inspired by Goya), De Larrocha showed an abiding control of tempo--fluidly sweeping phrases, rhythmic hesitations, snapped re-entrances--that made these pieces sound like southern cousins of the Viennese waltz. Her textures were often muddy though, her pacing lackadaisical. The music emerged pretty--lots of cascading arpeggios here--and pretty dull.

Her Bach, too, remained subdued. This, in a world full of pianists who dandify, aggrandize and deconstruct this music, is not necessarily such a bad thing. Bach does just fine in plain wrap, as De Larrocha revealed.

Still, in the Fantasia, BWV 906 and the "English" Suite No. 2, there was insufficient attention to voicings. Though she wasn't over-pedaling, lines emerged blurred. At times, she failed to realize the full force of Bach's ideas. In the Suite, the grand peaks of the Allemande became pale foothills, the peeling, bounding announcements of the Gigue, sober statements of fact.

Her performance of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne had breadth and organ-like sonority, but lacked the virtuoso execution that would give it edge. Similarly, her readings of Three Preludes by Mompou (Nos. 5-7), while intelligent and musicianly, called for a showier pianism.

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