Spanish pianist Makes Her Seattle Debut Tuesday night at Meany Hall

With the recent death of the distinguished pianist Alicia de Larrocha, whose career spanned the globe, one is reminded of how few Spanish pianists we hear on a regular basis. Sylvia Toran, whose local debut  opened the UW President’s Piano Series Tuesday night at Meany Hall, was some compensation.

Whereas de Larrocha was a native of Barcelona, Toran was born in the city’s historic rival, Madrid. She got her early training there, with subsequent studies at the Juilliard School in New York and Poland. She is well-known in Spain and is slowly making her way across the European continent and the United States, in part helped by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Appropriately she dedicated her Meany recital to de Larrocha’s even to the point of rearranging her program, adding Albeniz’s "Evocacion" as her opening gesture      

Music from France and Spain dominated the mostly 20th-century program. There were Ravel and Debussy from France and Albeniz and Falla from Spain. Odd man out, in a manner of speaking, was Franz Liszt with his "Les Jeux d’eau alla Villa d’Este." In the new arrangement, Albeniz’s "Evocacion" and "El Puerto" framed a couple movements from Book I of Debussy’s "Images," while Ravel’s "Jeux d’eau" and the Lizst remained paired together,  although in reverse order, with the Liszt concluding the first half.      

From the stage, Toran explained some of the reasons behind the change, but most of it was lost to me. However,  I am not sure it would have made any difference. There was too much music that sounded too similar, even with Albeniz’s welcome Spanish accents. Toran has a fluent technique that suits this music, and her approach was a reasonable one, if not always compelling. She sometimes lacked the individuality that would have made a substantial difference. However, she possesses impressive fingers, so she rode over the difficulties of the music with seeming ease.

The second half was Spanish: more Albeniz with "La Vega" as well as Falla’s "Fantasia baetica." With this music she made the greatest impression of the evening: impassioned, persuasive, electric. The Albeniz possessed local flavor, the sort that immediately establishes its country of origin. This is the sort of material that de Larrocha made her own and in which no one could compete for authenticity or sheer excitement. While the "Fantasia" is not one of the composer’s more successful works. Toran worked earnestly and, often successfully, to make it seem otherwise, so that one does not comment only on its ambition.      

The remainder of the season is as follows: Lise de la Salle, Nov. 24; Garrick Ohlsson, Jan. 13 and Feb. 9; Jeremy Denk, March 31, and Terrence Wilson April 29.

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