John FIELD (1782-1837)
Complete Piano Concertos
Piano Concerto No.1 in E-flat, H27 (1799, rev.1811/1815) [21:56]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A-flat, H31 (1811, rev.1816) [36:56]
Piano Concerto No.3 in E-flat, H32 (?1806) [38:15]
Piano Concerto No.4 in E-flat, H28 (1814, rev.1819) [34:47]
Piano Concerto No.5 in C, H39: L’Incendie par l’Orage (1817) [29:08]
Piano Concerto No.6 in C, H49 (1819, rev.1820) [33:26]
Piano Concerto No.7 in c minor, H58 (c.1822-32) [32:07]
Paolo Restani (piano)
Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice/Marco Guidarini
rec. September, 2007 - March, 2008 - May/June, 2008, Conservatoire de Nice. DDD.
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 93783 [4 CDs: 58:52 + 73:03 + 62:25 + 32:07]
It is wholly appropriate in Chopin centenary year that we should have a new recording of the music of John Field. Though we tend nowadays to think of him solely as the inventor of the Nocturne, long before Chopin made that form his own, Field’s reputation as a performer and composer was very considerable in his own day, with many preferring his performance and composition to Chopin. Now there is not one single entry for him in the current Gramophone Guide. Like most modern listeners, I yield the palm to Field over Chopin only in terms of quantity - seven concertos against two - not quality, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be ignored.
If you haven’t yet added recordings of the two Chopin concertos to your collection, however, read no further until you have done so. You can find strong recommendations for Argerich and Dutoit (EMI 5567982), Zimmerman as soloist and conductor on DG 459 6842 and Pollini/Kletzki (No.1 only, EMI 5675492) in my February 2010 Download Roundup and of Demidenko and Schiff in the April 2010 Roundup - the last-named the least expensive recommendable version that I know, on Hyperion Helios CDH55180 at budget price.
As is so often the case in righting neglect, we owe recordings of Field’s music to the independent labels. Brilliant Classics already have box sets containing his solo music, coupled with that of Chopin and other contemporaries, performed by Bart van Oort and others, and Naxos have given us two discs of his Nocturnes and Sonatas. Van Oort’s 4-CD recording of the Chopin and Field Nocturnes received a rather mixed review from Jonathan Woolf (Brilliant 92202). My reaction to the new set is rather more positive, though I had never encountered the soloist or conductor before.
The chief competition for the new CDs comes from a Chandos set with Míceál O’Rourke and the London Mozart Players, conducted by Mathias Bamert, also on four CDs at budget price (CHAN10468X, or available separately), which adds to the seven concertos some short pieces of Field’s chamber music. Em Marshall made this his Bargain of the Month - see review:
The performances are ... outstanding. The London Mozart Players, under the assured direction of Bamert, and soloist O’Rourke, show a great affinity for this wonderful music, and bring out a glorious sense of joy in lively and exciting performances.
With few exceptions, O’Rourke and Bamert are consistently rather faster than Restani and Guidarini, especially in the outer movements. The Chandos set is also more generous in providing the Quintet in A and some shorter works as fillers; the fourth CD of the new Brilliant Box is short value, with only Concerto No.7 (32 minutes), but the price advantage even over the inexpensive 4-for-2 Chandos set -around £13 as against around £20 in the UK - compensates.
The obvious comparison, then, is with the Chandos recordings. First, however, I listened to the four Brilliant CDs over four evenings without making any comparison and found myself well satisfied in all departments - soloist, orchestra, direction and recording. Don’t try playing them all in one evening. I listened particularly carefully to the Second Concerto, which, as Em Marshall notes, was something of a favourite with Field’s contemporaries - Schumann described it as ‘divinely beautiful’ - and was not aware that the outer movements sounded too slow or the slow movement too fast, as the comparison with O’Rourke’s timings might suggest. The opening movement does outstay its welcome a little, but Field is to blame rather than the performers.
I’m sure that Schumann would not have wished to withdraw his praise of the work if he were to hear the Brilliant Classics CD. The nocturne-like poco adagio second movement, as played here, is particularly beautiful, though all concerned resist the temptation to draw out the emotion too much, and both parts of the moderato innocente marking for the finale are also very well observed.
Turn to the Chandos recording and there is a slight touch of extra lightness and affability in the opening movement, achieved partly as a result of the greater fluency of the London Mozart Players and the recording, made in the Blackheath Halls, but even more so by the quality of the solo playing from Field’s compatriot, O’Rourke. Both pianists negotiate some difficult passages with ease, but O’Rourke actually makes it sound easy. Though this movement is taken faster overall than on the new Brilliant recording, there is never any sense of hurry: the tempo seems to be dictated by the requirements of the music, with close attention paid to the markings in the score. I’ve been able to consult the solo piano part only.
The same slight advantage of the Chandos set obtains for the remaining concertos and the same is also true of the separately available recordings on Naxos. There Benjamin Frith, with the Northern Sinfonia and David Haslam, also mostly come in rather faster than the Brilliant Classics team (Nos. 1 and 3, on 8.553770; 2 and 4 on 8.553771; 5 and 6 on 8.554221). These recordings are the most competitive price-wise if you wish only to purchase one or two CDs, though the Brilliant and Chandos sets are less expensive if you want the whole set. I’ve been able only to sample them, but what I have heard has given me no cause to doubt the critical acclaim which they have received. The same is true of the Telarc recording of Nos. 2 and 3, featuring John O’Conor and Charles Mackerras. (CD80370). Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library - my source for hearing the Frith/Haslam performances - can sample both that and the Chandos versions.
The Naxos and Chandos notes are good, but the Brilliant Classics booklet is superb, almost de luxe - they seem either to do the listener proud, as here and with their Monteverdi opera recordings, or to leave us feeling slightly short-changed, as on some of their single-CD recordings. On this occasion, the notes by Ateş Orga leave nothing to be desired.
Good as the rivals listed are - slightly preferable to the Brilliant Box - I don’t think that the margin is wide enough to withhold recommendation of the new set, with its significant price advantage and those excellent notes. Until I started making comparisons, I was more than happy with Restani and Guidarini. Having purchased the new set, I don’t recommend that you then start to compare it with its rivals - a luxury (or folly) best left to reviewers. You will miss the very enjoyable music which completes the fourth disc of the Chandos set, but you could always purchase that CD separately on CHAN9534: as a download, it could be yours for just an extra £7.99 (mp3 from theclassicalshop, classicsonline, or passionato) or £9.99 (lossless from theclassicalshop only). With or without that extra purchase, the Brilliant Box allows you to obtain some enjoyable and unjustly neglected music in recommendable performances and recordings at a modest cost.