ECM New Series debut for Lisa Smirnova, playing Georg Friedrich Händel’s Eight Great Suites (1720), also known as “The Eight London Suites” or “Suites de Pièces pour le Clavecin”, major pieces in the keyboard literature, too rarely brought together on disc.
The 1720 edition of suites (HWV 426-433) is amongst the most important collections of Händel’s early works. Published by the composer himself, with the special authorization of George I, it includes works from both his Hamburg and English periods, all revised by Händel, right through the printing process.
If the rich diversity of Händel’s entire oeuvre has long since overshadowed his reputation as composer of keyboard works, in his lifetime Händel’s popularity as player-composer was second to none. As Uwe Schweikert observes in the liner notes, “In quantity alone Händel's Suites and the Six Fugues or Voluntarys do not brook comparison with Bach. But the number of prints and handwritten copies disseminated throughout the whole of Europe far exceeds those of Bach or Scarlatti, demonstrating the esteem that Händel's harpsichord music enjoyed among his contemporaries. In his day Händel was considered not only a master of Italian opera, English oratorio and organ improvisation, but also 'one of the very greatest masters in technique and keyboard performance'. The esteem accorded to Händel the harpsichord virtuoso was matched by the admiration bestowed on his compositions for this instrument.” Early Händel biographer John Mainwaring (1724-1807) noted that “Of his talents in composing for a single instrument, we need no better proofs than are given us in his Harpsichord-lessons. (…) Händel's have one disadvantage, owing entirely to their peculiar excellence. The surprising fullness and activity of the inner parts, increases the difficulty of playing them to so great a degree, that few persons are capable of doing them justice. Indeed, there appears to be more work in them than any one instrument should seem capable of dispatching.”
Lisa Smirnova rises to the challenge, on the modern piano. She had been working rigorously on the 8 Great Suites for five years prior to undertaking this recording – begun at Austria’s Schloss Goldegg in 2007 – making many discoveries along the way.
Born in Moscow and for since years now a citizen of Vienna, Russian-Austrian pianist Lisa Smirnova studied with Karl-Heinz Kämmerling in Salzburg, as well as with Anna Kantor and Lev Naumov in Moscow and Maria Curcio and Robert Levin in London.
Her favourite repertoire includes the piano concertos of Mozart and work of Schubert, Haydn, Bach and Händel, and from the beginning of her career she has also been deeply committed to contemporary music, collaboration with composers including Rodion Shchedrin, Valentin Silvestrov, Giya Kancheli and Minas Borboudakis leading to the development of new projects.
To create a framework for such wide-ranging repertoire in 2007 Lisa Smirnova and colleagues founded the New Classic Ensemble Vienna. Together they have approached keyboard concertos of Bach, Haydn, Mozart und Beethoven and combined these in concert with chamber music of diverse epochs and with newly commissioned works.
As soloist and concert pianist she has performed throughout Europe, Asia and America. She plays with John Storgårds, Ivor Bolton, Manfred Honeck, Andrey Boreyko, Carlos Kalmar and others and has been a guest at leading festivals including Schleswig Holstein Festival, Salzburger Festspiele und Luzern Festival. She gave her US debut at age 20 in Carnegie Hall, and also has a dedicated listenership in the Far East. From 2007-2010 Lisa Smirnova was artistic director of the Nagasaki-Ojika International Music Festival in Japan. In 1993, she received the Brahms Prize at the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the first pianist to be honored with this award.