- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

MADRID — Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, who thrilled music listeners for decades with polished and enthralling interpretations of great classical works and Spanish masters, has died at age 86.

Measuring just under 5 feet, and with unusually small hands for a piano virtuoso, Miss de Larrocha won listeners over with the richness and robustness of her sound.

Critically acclaimed for her technique in performing Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Rachmaninoff, Miss de Larrocha was also seen as unrivaled in her interpretation of Spanish composers such as Manuel de Falla as well as masters from her native Catalonia such as Enrique Granados and Isaac Albeniz.

Gregor Benko, a piano music expert, music producer and family friend, confirmed her death. Mr. Benko said Miss de Larrocha had been in poor health for two years, since breaking her hip. She died late Friday in a Barcelona hospital.

Miss de Larrocha retired from public performances in 2003 after 75 years as a professional pianist.

Born in Barcelona on May 23, 1923, she began playing piano at the age of 3 and two years later gave her debut public performance during the International Exposition in Barcelona. Four years later, an eager music industry pressed and marketed her first vinyl record.

The daughter and niece of pianists, Miss de Larrocha as a child received classes from renowned teachers such as Frank Marshall, himself a disciple of the pianist Enrique Granados, and theorist Ricardo Lamote de Grignon.

Miss de Larrocha was invited to play at Barcelona’s Palau de la Musica when only 6, and by age 11 she was already a soloist with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra.

By the time she was 20, she was playing to full houses around Spain, displaying a style and skill that transcended her age. In 1947 she began to make an impression on the European circuit, and was soon playing all the major musical centers.

Miss de Larrocha’s style combined poetic interpretation, gracefulness and subtlety with technical virtuosity and remarkable focus, which enabled her to produce a beautifully layered sound capable of grand, temperamental flourishes.

She made her first trip to the United States in 1955, invited by Alfred Wallestein, and toured with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was this tour that allowed her to break through to gain recognition as one of the world’s most outstanding pianists.

Miss de Larrocha went on to become a regular performer at New York’s Lincoln Center, featuring in its prestigious Mostly Mozart Festival and interpreters series.

Over the years she was awarded myriad prizes, including the Prince of Asturias Prize in 1994, Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in Paris in 1988 and the Paderewski Memorial Medal. She was awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Michigan, Middlebury College and Carnegie Mellon University.

Her recordings earned her four Grammys and numerous other prizes in Europe.

She was married to the Spanish pianist Juan Torra, with whom she had two children.

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