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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lisa Smirnova, Georg Friedrich Handel's "Die Acht Grossen Suiten": Handel's Eight Suites, Beautifully Performed on Piano

There was a time in my purist-thinking youth when I distained the performance of Baroque era harpsichord works on the piano. No, I thought, this is inauthentic. So I stuck with my Wanda Landowska LPs and sported a holier-than-thou attitude. Then I heard Glenn Gould play Bach, and Jorge Demus...and I quickly changed my mind.

Russian-Austrian pianist Lisa Smirnov brings up-to-date the tradition of using the expressive and sonoric possibilities of the modern pianoforte to bring out the glowing musical phraseology of a Baroque masterpiece--in this case Handel's Die Acht Grossen Suiten (ECM New Series 2-CD 2213/14), which is also known as "The Eight London Suites" or "Suites de Pieces pour le Clavecin."

She worked on the entire opus for five years. What she does with it is in part what you expect from a world-class pianist, to use the dynamic swell of the modern piano and its variable articulation responsiveness to build up a very expressive music ediface. The music sings, the inner and outer parts are laid out before us with clarity, logic and poetic charm. The full suite is rarely presented in its entirety and with Ms. Smirnova's interpretive acumen, it gives the listener a new way into the brilliance of Handel the keyboard virtuoso.

The music is extraordinarily and perhaps I realized that as if for the first time on extended listenings to this release. Handel is surely one of the brilliant melodists of his or any time. Ms. Smirnova helps us come to terms with that brilliance in performances that let the principal melodies sing forth, the contrapuntal support and figuration assuming more of a supporting role. And her deft use (but not over-use) of rubato heightens the experience.

Here we have more than two-hours of musical bliss! Sterlingly beautiful performances of a great work of the Handelian mastermind, recording with sparkling audio presence. I come away from it a happy man.

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