The pianist Pedro Carboné – who was one of my closest friends – died last night of a stroke in Alicante, Spain, where he resided. He was a peerless exponent of the formidable piano works of Isaac Albeniz and Manuel de Falla. He was only sixty-three years old.
Pedro was born in Zaragoza. His first important teacher was Pilar Bayona – in the world of Spanish piano, a consequential name. He recorded the complete Chopin Etudes at a tender age. He later retooled his technique guided by Jean-Bernard Pommier, whom he credited with helping him achieve a deeper, more penetrating tone.
Fullness of texture was a Carboné hallmark — crucial in the dense chordal masses and insanely entangled sonorities charting the summit of the Spanish keyboard literature: Albeniz’s 90-minute Iberia, which Pedro expunged of sentimentality and perfume. In Spanish repertoire (not including Granados, for which he did not care), he insisted on a degree of austerity. There was nothing Gallic about his Andalusian style; it projected an immense and stubborn dignity. Compared to the influential Iberias of Alicia de Larrocha, compared to the touristic Iberia orchestrations of Enrique Arbos, Pedro projected a darker, more dissonant Spain.
Pedro enjoyed talking at his concerts – and, once begun, found it hard to stop. Most memorably, he called Falla’s keyboard concerto (which he performed on the piano, not the alternative harpsichord) “an encapsulation of the history of Spanish music” – and this otherwise inscrutable composition became iconic. The first movement dissects a popular song from medieval Spain. The second is a stark religious epiphany – the Spain of the Escorial. The third pays homage to the eighteenth-century harpsichord school of Scarlatti and Soler. The entire exercise partakes of twentieth century modernism. (Pedro explained that Falla skips the nineteenth century – the century of zarzuela – because he disdained it.)
The Fantasia Betica for solo piano – Falla’s final flamenco appropriation – is another keyboard masterpiece in search of Spain. Pedro here treated flamenco with the same extraordinary gravitas that Falla attained. In the third movement of Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain Pedro discovered “the birth of Spanish music.” If you want to know why, you can hear Pedro play and explain everything here — https://www.wwfm.org/webcasts/2018-12-14/falla-and-flamenco-on-three-hour-postclassical-friday-night-at-8-pm
More recently, Pedro was intent on resurrecting the music of Oscar Espla, an original twentieth century voice sidelined by the reactionary aesthetics of Franco’s regime.
Pedro was a frequent house-guest in our Manhattan apartment. He was an object of intense affection for my wife and children. He also knew our Golden doodle, Teddy, from puppydom. He was an exemplary eater and refrigerator-raider. And he was my most frequent piano-duet partner. On countless occasions we plunged through the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. The biggest racket we ever made came in the first-movement development of Beethoven’s Eighth, whose convulsive energies perfectly suit the keyboard. In the manic intensities of certain Schubert marches, and the same composer’s Divertissement a la hongroise, we discerned a tongue-in-cheek hilarity. We memorably discovered that the knitted textures of Schubert’s C major Symphony can generate a wholly satisfying four-hand concert work. Pedro’s authority in Bach – in four-hand transcriptions of the great organ works, in Victor Babin’s beautiful two-piano versions of the trio sonatas – was utterly natural; he flawlessly projected polyphonic textures I could only skim. With compatible partners, the piano duet becomes a rare medium for spontaneous intimacy.
Pedro was closely bonded to his mother (who survives him) and to his two sisters and their families. I greatly regret that I had no occasion to meet Lina, the loving companion of his last years. His abiding love for his dog Tobi was both touching and telling.