This splendid seven-disc set marks Alicia de Larrocha's 2003 retirement from the concert stage after an extraordinary career spanning more than seven decades. To many listeners, she is a peerless performer of Iberian (particularly Spanish and Catalan) music. Indeed, as her rendition of Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain demonstrates, this Catalan pianist brilliantly captures the indefinable magic and charm of Iberian music, revealing a timeless richness and depth that lesser artists, conforming to ideas of national style, often miss. It would be a mistake, however, to define de Larrocha as an "Iberian specialist." As this set demonstrates, her rich repertoire encompasses various traditions and a timespan from the late Baroque to the present, from Bach to Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002).
Patricia Petibon's album Melancolía: Spanish Arias and Songs is a result of the soprano's lifelong fascination with the music and culture of Spain, with a special interest in the ways Spanish and French influences have cross-pollinated. She has put together an exceptionally attractive selection of songs and arias from zarzuelas, most of them likely to be unfamiliar to general audiences. Petibon is known for her light, silvery coloratura, and her gift for inhabiting her roles, both dramatic and comic, with great spirit and penetrating insight. This repertoire doesn't especially exploit her coloratura abilities, but it gives free range to her expressive talents, from the feral intensity of the traditional Yoruba chant Ogundé uareré and the unrestrained yawps of Giménez's aria "La tarantula é un bicho múmalo" to the suave lyricism of the familiar Aria from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.