Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This post isn't about Alicia de Larrocha

Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha has died at the age of 86, but this post isn't a reflection on her artistry, or a reminiscence about that time I saw her perform in wherever-it-was. Reading the news of her death reminded me again of how unlike the stereotypical classical music person I appear to be. The truth is, I don't have anything to say about de Larrocha's artistry, nor anything to reminisce about. Yes, I am right now listening to her Decca recording of Albeniz's Iberia, and it is a fine thing indeed. But I have nothing to say about the pianist. The "fine thing" that I am listening to is a piano work by Albeniz, played in such a manner as to impress me. If you tell me that de Larrocha "owned" the piano music of Albeniz and Granados (and if you've heard of de Larrocha, you know this) then I will agree that it certainly sounds like she owned it, but on the other hand I haven't heard anyone else perform it, and even if I had I wouldn't have known the music well enough to offer much of an analysis. What I'm saying is, I don't know enough to disagree with you. Which I think makes me not a stereotypical classical music person. These are the ones who know; the ones who have made those comparisons and are ready with an opinion. Example: well, you've heard de Larrocha in Albeniz, but what about her Rachmaninov 3 with Previn? I happen to have this in my collection - a cheap Belart release from years ago when I was looking for a first recording of that work - but if you ask me whether it's a good option for Rach 3, I'm just going to shrug. Yes, back in the days of Nereffid's Guide I would have done a little research and got back to you, but my actual personal knowledge is pretty much nil.
I don't see this as a bad thing, though. I've always come to classical music for the music rather than the performers. On a general basis, I'd much rather hear a new work, or a new composer, than hear a new performance of a work I know reasonably well. So I've never really given myself the opportunity to develop in the direction of collecting multiple recordings of certain beloved pieces, or spending hours on YouTube, or whatever it is I should be doing. I'm happy expanding my horizons wider rather than deeper (clumsy metaphor, sorry). I do, of course, pay close attention to the critics and use them to help me pick a good recording, on the grounds that a bad performance of an unfamiliar work is still a bad performance and one that won't do the work any favours. And while I sometimes do feel my ignorance when reading a critic give an incisive analysis of why one particular pianist outshines all others in a particular piece, I draw some comfort from the knowledge that it's all totally subjective anyway.
Alicia de Larrocha's Rach 3 with Previn? "breathtaking", according to the Telegraph obit; "eccentric", according to Rob Barnett on MusicWeb.

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