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Bruce Hodges
The Juilliard Journal Online, September 2010

Anyone noticing the explosion of copyright law issues in the news might ponder the fact that this is not a recent phenomenon. Consider the predicament of George Frideric Handel’s keyboard suites—the so-called “eight great suites”—published in 1720. The composer felt compelled to release them in the wake of illegal, pirated copies of the scores making their way around the world. Lucky listeners now have the chance to hear the first four on piano, played by Philip Edward Fisher, who received his master’s degree from Juilliard in 2006. 

Throughout this set, Handel’s contrapuntal brilliance comes through strongly, helped by Fisher’s exacting rhythmic control and clear articulation. Fast movements are executed with impressive control and occasional ever-so-slight rubato for emphasis. The bubbly second movement Allegro of the Second Suite will bring a smile to all but the most soberly inclined. Yet he brings out the composer’s ability to suddenly touch the heart, such as in the two meditative Adagios in the same suite. In the final one, Fisher emphasizes the wistful Sarabande by deploying a gentle, yearning quality that is irresistible.

The longest of the four, the Third in D minor, deploys a seven-movement structure, and it, too, has a rapt, thoughtful slow movement, a lengthy Air that might be the climax. And although a traditional Allemande and Courante make appearances, Handel adds a short set of variations (Doubles Nos. 1–5), and caps it off with a festive Presto.

Such care and precision bodes well for Volume 2. Although Fisher is known for his affinity for contemporary music, he clearly has the measure of these Baroque gems. And talent aside, he is very well recorded, with lots of detail, by Jonathan Allen of Abbey Road Studios, here working at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall in the U.K.



Scott Noriega
Fanfare, September 2010

Handel’s keyboard suites—though still not as established in the repertoire of the average pianist as Bach’s are—are steadily gaining popularity with many performers...Here, we have Volume 1 of what looks like a complete recording of the so-called “Eight Great Suites.”

Philip Edward Fisher certainly has the mechanical capabilities to play this music in a convincing manner, as the virtuosic opening preludes to both the first and third suites, in A Major and D Minor, respectively, can attest. His free way with them pays dividends, as it feeds off the very nature of their origins—improvisation...He has a keen sense of voicing and tonal shading, as well as tempi which tend to be moderate, except occasionally. The Air to the D-Minor Suite, which he, along with many others, plays just too slowly for me, is an example...Fisher’s E-Minor Suite comes off the best, as he plays it in the most unaffected way: a light and bouncy, virtuosic fugal Prélude, followed by a soft and flowing Allemande, an aggressive and assured Courante, a pensive Sarabande with little ornamentation and played at a gently lilting tempo, and a lively, quirky, and lightly ornamented Gigue. Fisher seems to let the music speak for itself here—something that many performers can do a little more of from time to time.

All in all, this is a very fine disc, to be warmly recommended, not only for its low price, but also for its often assured and inspired playing...Here’s hoping that Fisher will grace us not only with the complete “Eight Great Suites” of 1720 in the following volume(s), but all 16.



Bill
The WSCL Blog, August 2010

Handel’s eight keyboard suites are prized by musicians and Handellians everywhere. This new disc from Naxos contains the first four.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2010

Even in an age when most of Handel’s large output has become commonplace, the eight Keyboard Suites remain among his lesser-known works. Having recently arrived in London, where he attracted the attention of King George I, Handel was looking to put down roots in England, well away from the glut of composers in his native Germany. Among the scores that quickly establish his reputation were the two books containing eight Keyboard Sonatas published in 1720. They were extremely well received and republished several times during his lifetime. That they might have been written over a period of time is most probable, for they show an increasing willingness to move away from the simple formula of four dances that had become the accepted format of instrumental suites. No doubt intended for his own performance as a highly skilled harpsichordist, this release opens up the debate of using the modern piano as a substitute for the composer’s intended instrument. Comparing the two we are aware of the way the tight trills and turns the harpsichord creates does much to characterise the music. In trying to imitate the comparatively dry period sound, many piano performances have fallen between the proverbial ‘two stools’. Philip Edward Fisher avoids that trap by performing them in piano terms, the sound warm and smooth, but with sufficient period awareness to communicate the era of composition. He also avoids the temptation of playing these works too quickly, for these are stately dances that are not to be hurried. Turn to track ten, the Fuga second movement of the Third Suite, and that will serve to answer your own standpoint, for here Fisher has to smooth over the ‘clatter’ you would hear from the harpsichord. The sound from Symphony Hall in Birmingham, UK,  is excellent.






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4:35:45 AM, 29 November 2014
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