© New York Times 08/18/03

Pianist Alicia de Larrocha provided commanding performances of technically daunting works at one of her farewell concerts at Avery Fisher Hall on Friday.

The subways may have been down, but the determination was high for the Mostly Mozart Festival concert at Avery Fisher Hall on Friday night. Appearing onstage prior to the concert by the festival orchestra, Jane S. Moss, vice president for programming at Lincoln Center, said, "We would never let anything as insignificant as the most serious power interruption in American history stop us from presenting a Mostly Mozart Festival concert."

It took some doing, though. Many orchestra members came in makeshift car pools and even on bicycles. But all 40-some players made it to the afternoon rehearsal and the evening performance. Members of the support staff made extra efforts as well. One committed box-office attendant was said to have biked all the way from Montclair, N.J.

There was a special impetus to make this concert happen, though, because the pianist Alicia de Larrocha, a favorite at the festival since her first appearance there in 1971, was giving what was announced as her farewell Mostly Mozart performances. (The program was repeated on Saturday night.) Given the popularity of Ms. de Larrocha, the 80-year-old Spanish artist, it was no surprise that despite the travel impediments a sizeable audience turned out to hear her play Mozart's Piano Concerto in A (K. 488), conducted by Emmanuel Krivine.

For about 60 years audiences have found Ms. de Larrocha's presence as endearing as her artistry is elegant. She is so small that she uses a special piano bench raised higher than normal by wooden slats beneath its legs. Standing center stage to acknowledge the audience's prolonged greeting, she was just slightly taller than the seated concertmaster. Yet in Ms. de Larrocha's prime her petite stature and small hands did not prevent her from dashing off commanding performances of technically daunting works like Albéniz's "Iberia."

Though she has long felt a special closeness to Mozart, her playing of his work has not been to all tastes. You admire the liquid passagework, graceful phrasing, clear textures and buoyancy. Still, she values elegance over incisiveness and subtlety over surprise. At 80 her skills remain considerable, yet for all its suppleness, her performance was somewhat tentative and pale.

Nonetheless her Mozart has always been musically honest and refreshingly free of any interpretive agenda, and that was as true as ever on this special night. Mr. Krivine and the orchestra provided sensitive support. The ovations went on and on, so much so that Ms. de Larrocha responded with a solo encore, an arrangement of a Bach chorale, "Beloved Jesus We Are Here."

The orchestra also offered lively performances of Mozart's Overture to "Die Entführung aus dem Serail" and Schubert's Symphony No. 3. Ms. de Larrocha's many fans will surely attend her performances scheduled for October with the New York Philharmonic of Manuel de Falla's "Nights in the Gardens of Spain," billed, at least for now, as her final United States appearances. If Ms. de Larrocha seems to be giving lots of farewell concerts, she is hardly the first artist to prolong the act of saying goodbye.

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