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Philip Edward Fisher Plays Handel: An Interview

August 18, 2010

Philip Edward Fisher
Philip Edward Fisher has released a wonderful disc of Handel’s keyboard music (8.572197). Sean Hickey interviewed him about the disc and his plans for the future.

Sean Hickey: Philip, you’ve recorded the Handel Keyboard Suites for Naxos. Despite a huge resurgence in the composer’s opera, oratorio and vocal music in the past few years, most people are not familiar with his keyboard music. How did you decide to record this repertoire and why not the obligatory Bach?

Philip Edward Fisher: While Bach’s keyboard works have been established as staples of the piano repertoire for many years, Handel’s seem to have been viewed almost exclusively as belonging to the harpsichord. This has always struck me as strange...the two composers were, after all, exact contemporaries, and these suites in particular translate just as effectively to the piano as do Bach’s. I first came across them more than fifteen years ago, and quickly grew to love them for their great beauty and visceral, down-to-earth qualities that are so unique to Handel’s music. When the opportunity to record for Naxos came along, the project seemed to align itself well with the label’s creative and innovative programming—and it felt to me infinitely more stimulating a challenge than simply to tackle works that had been recorded countless times before, however great.

SH: Fascinating, and we appreciate anyone who looks into the byways of this vast repertoire. It seems silly to put Handel in a category such as this, but it seems many great composers have parts of their output that are neglected, often unjustly. Handel for his keyboard music, Vivaldi for vocal music, etc. Are there more Handel suites and do you have plans to record them?

PEF: Well, I just finished recording the other four suites of the set this past September. That disc is in post-production right now, and soon to be released on Naxos. Those eight suites make up the set that is often referred to as Handel’s “Great Keyboard Suites”. There are quite a few others, composed later in his life, but none of them are quite as substantial in nature as the “great” suites. Having said that, there is some beautiful music to be found there, and I certainly wouldn’t rule out recording some of them in the future.

HANDEL Keyboard Suites
Vol 1 – Nos 1-4

Philip Edward Fisher, piano
SH: Given your concertizing and other recordings, it certainly wouldn’t be fair to label you a specialist in the Baroque repertoire, simply because you tackle music from the 17th to 21st centuries. Is there a period that you gravitate toward more than others, and any composers or works from that period that particularly inspire you?

PEF: You’re right that I don’t really specialize in any particular period, and I must admit it’s not something I have felt the inclination to do as yet. I feel a strong connection to a wide variety of works and composers, and I would find it hard to have the level of focus necessary to specialize in a specific style or period to that extent…although I have tremendous respect for those that do.

I could probably answer the second part of your question differently on an almost daily basis! There definitely are works I feel a deep connection to and particularly love to perform—Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto, for example (which I’m excited to be performing with the wonderful Longwood Symphony in Boston this May!)—but in general I am inspired by a huge range of composers and periods, and I’m particularly passionate about immersing myself in contemporary music as well as the classics. I must admit that I don’t really listen to so much piano music…I’m crazy about the symphonic medium—and it’s also not just classical music that can be a tremendous source of inspiration for me!

SH: What can we expect from you next, in terms of performances, recordings and project and what would you like to see happen next in your career? Any conductors or collaborators on your radar?

PEF: Other than the second disc in the Handel set, soon to be released, I’m excited to be recording a disc for the Chandos label this coming summer—a disc of works by the ‘Mighty Five’ handful of Russian composers. It will be an interesting combination of very popular works and rarely-heard gems; a challenge I’m particularly looking forward to.

In terms of future performances, I have a number of concerto appearances lined up, and I’ll be taking a recital program based around the Handel suites and various works by other composers inspired by Handel to a number of venues around the world, including New York, London and Birmingham, UK (where the Handel disc was recorded). As well as playing solo recitals and concertos, I love to collaborate with other performers, and I have been lucky enough to work with many up to this point—so I’m looking forward to many more of those experiences.

Where my ‘radar’ is concerned, I am particularly keen to work with the CBSO, my hometown orchestra! It meant a great deal to me to return there to record the Handel disc, particularly when the Symphony Hall is such a special venue, and it would be an even more incredible feeling to return and work with what is a fantastic orchestra! Stay tuned!

SOURCE: Sean Hickey, PMS 286 Appreciation Society


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