Alicia de Larrocha has a gift for making the most personal interpretations seem so utterly correct that the first reaction to her Kennedy Center concert Saturday night is to recall not the marvels of the performance but of the music itself.
It is easy to see why Antonio Soler is enjoying a revival. Three sonatas by the Spanish priest sounded like flamenco steps on a marble floor, highlighting the unlikely and beautiful blend of 18th-century classicism with Iberian flavor that is the stamp of Soler. De Larrocha's playing was all clarity and air, not quite preparing us for what followed.
In Beethoven's late sonatas are signs of the triumphant struggle between form and boundless freedom. With the A-flat Major, the almost unbearable poignancy of the first phrase, the eloquent silences of the adagio and the titanic force of its harmonic developments signal the dawn of romanticism. Alicia de Larrocha matched her deliberate pacing but not once straying from the music. The final fugue built up an irresistible momentum of feeling if not speed. There is no more delicate touch when lightness is needed, no stronger hands when only force can win. It was an unforgettable performance.
If the rest of the evening was less profound, it was because of the music and not the musician. Granados' "Cuatro Danzas Espanolas" brought a variety of joy to the concert, and even his extravagant "Allegro de Concierto" delighted with its sensual Latin melodies. But there was surprise at the end, in the suite from De Falla's "El Amor Brujo." The opening chords can only be described as savage, and there was none of the orchestra's force missing from this piano reduction. De Larrocha toyed with the rhythms, allowing the melody to breathe nervously behind. And familiarity took away none of the thrill of the famous Ritual Fire Dance.