The first recording I ever owned, when I was about seven years old, was of Alicia de Larrocha playing Mozart's concertos 9 and 21 with the English Chamber Orchestra. Over the years, I have owned at least three copies of that recording because I keep wearing it out. To this day, it is the one piece of music for which I am always in the mood. I can always count on it to lift my spirits and rekindle my love for music. Listening to that record always cheers me up, even in my darkest times.
The first time I listened to that recording was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life. At the beginning, I thought it was only the instrument that had that effect on me, it was the first time I had even heard a piano properly played. After that, I saved up my allowance for months until I had enough to get one of those boxed sets of "Great Piano Concertos" which you can find lying around really cheap in most bargain bins. Those discs were the first time I listened to Rachmaninov's second concerto, the Tchaikovsky concerto, Beethoven's Emperor... it also included a version of Mozart's 21st Concerto. I remember only ever listening to it once, and not getting all the way to the end. After listening to Alicia de Larrocha for such long time, this other version felt wrong to me, it didn't make me happy.
For years, every time I saved up enough money, I would buy an Alicia de Larrocha record. She was the only pianist I knew by name. The next recording I got was of a Mozart recital, then some more Mozart piano concerti and, after that, her recording of the Khatchaturian piano concerto. Every single one of those recordings had the same effect on me; they felt fresh every time I listened. Listening to her made me ecstatic, I couldn't explain why; her recordings made me want to dance and jump around, there was always something so beautiful about that sound, so round and full. It made me want to play the piano, or just go out and make music in any way I could.
My collection of recordings continued to grow over the years and every single piano recording in it was by Alicia de Larrocha. I had no idea who she was, where she came from, or what she was best known for, all I knew was that something in her playing spoke to me on a deeper level; it reached out to me in a way that other recordings didn't. In my eight year old mind, she attained a mythical status, some kind of piano God with powers beyond mere mortals. Ironically, the one recording I never heard was her landmark rendition of Iberia. When asked who my favorite pianist was, I'd always answer: "Alicia de Larrocha" without the slightest idea that she was really good with music from Spain. It wasn't until years later, when I was a teenager that I was completely blown away by her recordings of Albeniz, Granados, Soler and Falla.
Alicia de Larrocha is the reason I fell in love with music, and especially with the piano. In many ways, she represents for me an ideal of what a musician should try to be. Today I was greatly saddened when I heard that she passed away at 86 years of age. I felt as if a big piece of my childhood had passed away. I know that her recordings will be rediscovered by generations to come, as it happened to me. It's a playing that is unmistakable, of such individuality and so full of life that no one can listen to it for the very first time and remain untouched.