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Obituary: Roger Fisher

02 July 2021

Kenneth Shenton writes:

WHILE serving Chester Cathedral for almost 30 years, Roger Fisher, who died on 3 June, aged 84, influenced music far beyond the confines of his provincial organ loft.

A gifted choir trainer, pianist, and an organist of international renown, he inherited the mantle of his distinguished teacher, Harold Darke, his playing remaining firmly rooted in the pre-Reform movement of the English late Romantic school. At a time when mainstream playing styles among many younger players from all corners of the world seemed to have become more standardised, Fisher’s noted individualism rarely failed to offer an often dazzling snapshot of a more insular English tradition.

The grandson of a distinguished Victorian musician, at one time Principal of Hove School of Music, and his father also a composer, Roger Anthony Fisher was born in Woodford Green on 18 September 1936. Having a lucky escape during the Blitz, he was educated at Bancroft’s School, and in 1955 went to the Royal College of Music, where his tutors were Harold Darke and Herbert Howells.

He won the Tankard Prize for Organ Playing, and, four years later, he was elected Organ Scholar of Christ Church, Oxford. There he studied with Sydney Watson, Bernard Rose, and H. K. Andrews.

From 1962 until 1967, he was Assistant Organist of Hereford Cathedral. While intimately involved in the Three Choirs Festival, he also conducted Hereford String Orchestra, beside lecturing at the local college of education.

Fisher emerged as one of the leading organists of his generation. He was keen to restore the organ to the mainstream of contemporary music-making, and he revelled in the unique opportunities afforded by the instrument. Fiery and impassioned, his sense of rhythm was more than matched by a love of colour; underpinning everything was a splendidly natural technique. He built an enviable reputation for musical insight and selfless integrity, and, as well as his church work, he maintained a non-stop career as a top-flight concert artist. He was also fascinated by the endless technical minutiae of organ construction and design, and, as he had found time to build instruments himself, his reputation as an organ adviser proved equally distinguished.

When he succeeded John Sanders at Chester Cathedral in 1967, Fisher become one of the youngest cathedral organists. His arrival there proved propitious, coming as it did with a welcome opportunity to refine and redesign the cathedral organ. He worked closely with Sir John Dykes Bower and the builders, Rushworth & Dreaper; the choir organ was re-aligned and the swell organ improved. New flue choruses allowed a much more overall balanced sound, but the virility of the Hill great reeds was kept. Despite the loss of the choir school, Fisher maintained a committed, consistent, and extremely loyal choral body, able to tackle challenging repertoire. This was never more apparent than in 1992 when the Queen visited to present the Royal Maundy.

His recordings include those in EMI’s Great Cathedral Organs series, and the sonatas of Josef Rheinberger. Centrepiece of his 2001 recording in St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morriston, New Jersey, was his own transcription of Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides. With the tenor Gordon Pullin, he explored English song.

Fisher retired in 1996 and moved to Trelogan, in north-east Wales. There, where he designed and installed yet a further instrument, the Old Chapel became not only a home, but also a teaching and popular intimate performance venue. A longstanding member of the Council of the Royal College of Organists, and a Special Commissioner for the Royal School of Church Music, he also undertook extensive tours as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. In addition, he was music critic for the Liverpool Daily Post, and served as features editor of the Organists’ Review. His publications include Towards Keyboard Fluency and four volumes of Master Classes with Roger Fisher. A brief spell at St Asaph Cathedral near by brought his rich life full circle.

He is survived by his second wife, Gillian, together with a daughter from his first marriage.

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