Handel: Suites Nos 5-8

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Suites Nos 5-8
PERFORMER: Philip Edward Fisher (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573397

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Pianists have often adopted a pick-and-mix approach to Handel’s so-called ‘Great’ Suites, published in 1720 and oozing all the flair and fantasy you’d expect from a master keyboard player flexing his youthful fingers. Some, however, have opted for the full Handelian monty, and with this release Philip Edward Fisher joins the ranks of Lisa Smirnova (ECM) and, more recently, Danny Driver (Hyperion) in offering all eight on the piano. It belatedly completes a project launched five years ago when the recording of these last four suites was already in the can.

Fisher opens with an amiable account of the E major Suite unfolded in a smooth unruffled style that takes everything in its stride without adding much to the dots on the page. Throughout all repeats are scrupulously observed, but literally so without any added embellishments to tickle the ear, and Fisher’s preference for beginning trills on the note being ornamented rather than approached from above tends to rob them of any arresting edginess. The opening of the G minor Suite sounds almost apologetic rather than imposingly haughty as its French Ouverture manners ought to suggest, but the spiky fugal continuation has plenty of snap, crackle and pop, only for the majestic Passacaille to fall short in cumulative dramatic power. Smirnova on ECM remains an easy recommendation for pianophiles; on harpsichord, Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi) dares – and wins!

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Paul Riley