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Field's posthumous reputation has relied mainly on the series of sixteen nocturnes that encapsulated his own style of pianism as well as introducing a new title to the repertoire. Glinka was briefly his pupil and recounted how Field's fingers seemed not to strike the keys but 'fell on them as large raindrops and scattered like pearls on velvet'. The concertos contain passages where such playing is eminently in place, and Benjamin Frith has the refinement and delicacy of touch to revel in such opportunities. But there are also moments of surprising force and power, none more dramatic than the 'storm' passage in the opening Allegro moderato of Concerto No 5, written in 1817 [listen -- track 1, 10:06-11:20]. Russia had undergone the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 and the firing of Moscow; it was indeed a country familiar with violence, and Field's 'Blaze caused by Lightning' may refer equally to an act of God or of the French Emperor. The finale inhabits a less risky world, but is not without its displays of energy [listen -- track 3, 6:28-7:31].

The Sixth Concerto starts with a brave show of military effects. Great commemorative cathedrals celebrating the defeat of Napoleon would arise in both St Petersburg and Moscow (it was in a different century that Stalin demolished the latter to provide a swimming-pool, which has once more yielded place to a cathedral) and it was seemly to glory in the prowess of Russian arms. By the time Field finally revised the concerto in 1830, army officers had plotted the December revolt, and the military position was less clear-cut. Indeed it is a refreshment that the slow movement is a reworking of Field's Sixth Nocturne, at the opening of which only strings provide the lightest accompaniment [listen -- track 5, 0:00-1:08]. A fascinating characteristic of Field's is periodically to halt his music for a moment of silence. Such brief periods of reflection recur in both concertos, and the start to the finale of No 6 provides as good examples as any [listen -- track 6, 0:00-0:53]. There is much originality in these works, and they thoroughly deserve the accomplished performances they get from Frith and the Northern Sinfonia under David Haslam.

Copyright © 21 August 2002 Robert Anderson, London, UK


John Field: Piano Concertos Volume 3

8.554221 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 57'22" 2002 HNH International Ltd

Benjamin Frith, piano, Northern Sinfonia / David Haslam

Piano Concerto No 5 in C major 'L'Incendie par l'Orage'; Piano Concerto No 6 in C



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