Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti (not to mention Francois Couperin and Dieterich Buxtehude) were not the only figures of the High Baroque to compose memorable keyboard music. George Frideric Handel composed two sets of eight keyboard suites each, published in 1720 and 1733, respectively, that remain highly regarded. These suites are comparable to those of Bach (English Suites
(BWV 806-811), French Suites
, BWV 812-817, Partitas
, BWV 825-830) in structure, both men composing in the Baroque suite du danses
form comprised of some or all of the parts: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and/or Gigue.
Handel's prowess as a keyboard player is documented in his 1708 keyboard duel with Scarlatti, where Handel bested Scarlatti at the organ, while Scarlatti prevailed at the harpsichord. The two men, along with Bach, were born within eight months of one another, making them a rather rarefied trio of composers, all accomplished at the keyboard. Where Bach and Scarlatti's keyboard works fairly dominate the recording market, Handel's suites were overshadowed by his operas and oratorios, not the least of which is his famous Messiah.
Pianist Philip Edward Fisher adds his first volume of Handel's 1720 set of suites to a market already sporting sets by Murray Perahia, Sviatoslav Richter and Andrei Gavrilov and Ragna Schirmer. Like these other artists, Fisher performs the Suites on the modern piano. As with Bach and Scarlatti, Handel's keyboard compositions were written for the harpsichord, were contemporary with the development of the fortepiano, and predated the modern hammerklavier by many years. the modern piano provides these older compositions a fantastic array of tonal techniques not available when the pieces were written.
Fisher's Handel starts out almost romantically in the "Suite No. 1 Prelude," where the pianist indulges legato flourishes before he shifts into a classically informed performance of the remainder of the suite. The minor key suites, "No.3 in D minor" and "No. 4 in E minor," like Scarlatti's minor key sonatas, project a solemn grandeur not readily heard in the major key compositions. Fisher has a firm grip on revealing all of the pathos present in these pieces. While his D minor fugue is brisk, it never strays far from the contemplative. An even approach characterizes Fisher's treatment of these Handel compositions, one we can hope will extrapolate to his ostensible Volume 2.
Personnel: Philip Edward Fisher: piano.