Long before I listened to records for a living, I remember coming out of a store with an album I had chosen purely for the sum of its parts.
Unlike any compilation known to buffs, it combined a harpsichord concerto by Bach with a keyboard work of Haydn’s and a Mozart piano concerto, the 12th in A major, K414. I am not sure if it has ever been reissued on CD.
The conductor was David Zinman, the orchestra the London Sinfonietta and the soloist – who clearly dictated the quirky, uncommercial choice – the Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, who has just died at the age of 86.
What burst off the project was the creative intelligence behind it and, the moment I heard the tender yet steely touch of its soloist, I was converted for life into a de Larrocha fan. She was quite unlike any other pianist, with a tone all her own and a taste that had to be taken on its own terms. Unmatchable in Granados, Albeniz and Turina, she brought a lilt of light and heat to non-Iberian music – Chopin, Schumann and Mozart, most of all.
She was treated with great reverence at Decca and left a discrete and indelible legacy on that label until it was corporatised in 1990. Herbert Breslin, her US manager, once said: There are two kinds of repertory Alicia plays … Things she plays extremely well, and things she plays better than anyone else.’ I would not dispute a word of that assessment.
Allan Kozinn captures her well in a New York Times obit.