John FIELD (1782-1837)
No. 1 in E flat major H24 [3:34]
No. 2 in C minor H25 [2:53]
No. 3 in A flat major H26 [4:03]
No. 4 in A major H36 [5:11]
No. 5 in B flat major H37 [2:36]
No. 6 in F major “Cradle Song” H40 [4:31]
No. 7 in A major H14 [5:07]
No. 8 in E flat major H30 [4:16]
No. 9 in E minor H46 [3:18]
No. 10 in E major “Nocturne-pastorale” H54 [3:18]
No. 11 in E flat major H56 [5:39]
No. 12 in E major “Nocturne-caractéristique: Noontide” H13 [2:53]
No. 13 in C major “Rêverie-Nocturne” H45 [3:34]
No. 14 in G major H58 [9:07]
No. 15 in D minor “Song Without Words” H60 [5:04]
No. 16 in C major H60 [4:41]
No. 17 in C major H61 [9:16]
No. 18 in F major H62 [5:57]
Roberte Mamou (piano)
rec. Studio Steurbatt, Ghent, Belgium, date not provided
PAVANE RECORDS ADW7555/6 [44:24 + 40:32]

This is a re-mastered re-release of Roberte Mamou’s 1980’s recording of John Field’s Nocturnes which Peter Quantrill fairly roundly dismissed in his review. This release is marked copyright 1986, and was digitally remastered in 2016 by Marc Doutrepont of Equus in Brussels. Comparing via a streaming service this version does seem a bit richer and mellower in terms of sound, though I appreciate this is not a like-for-like comparison. Mamou’s sound is actually pretty good to my ears, if perhaps a little on the velvety side rather than embracing all of the upper harmonics, with a fairly close perspective but a pleasant air of resonance to ease us into Field’s gently expressive and lyrical world.

I would tend to be a bit more generous towards Mamou’s playing in this recording than Mr Quantrill, though I do agree that this release has to measure up to some severe competition. Field’s Nocturnes are characterised by flowing left-hand accompaniments to their essentially melodic content, and the best performances somehow manage to make this left-hand seem like gestures that lift up the melody into something ethereal – at times almost out-Schuberting Schubert. To start in with the comparisons, John O’Conor on the Telarc label does this with sublime effortlessness in Nocturne No. 2. This he takes slower than Mamou, who goes more for the ‘babbling brook’ approach in this case. Listening carefully you can hear where Mamou tends to point out the significant harmonic notes more, where O’Conor manages a more even touch, just colouring the bass notes enough to make their significance felt. O’Conor does less with rubato, allowing the music to speak for itself, though this laid-back feel may be something you consider more ‘woken-up’ with Mamou.

The Decca label has more recently given us Elizabeth Joy Roe’s rendition of these works (review) and her readings also tend to be smoother than Mamou’s, also going for the swifter tempo in that Nocturne No. 2 but providing a clearer sense of its harmonic shape and direction. This is something I admire in this recording, which doesn’t linger over detail, preferring to place before us a poetic and jewel-like whole. There are elements of surprise in the Nocturne No. 3 which emerge like fragrant blooms from Field’s at times remarkably static tonality with Elizabeth Joy Roe. Mamou is swifter, increasingly so towards the end, but throughout with a slight air of wanting to traverse those passages of repetition in the left hand without relishing their effect too much, while perhaps celebrating those changes with a little too much rhetorical spice.

These are just a couple of comparisons but further exploration tends to bring out similar conclusions. Having Roberte Mamou’s performance of Field’s Nocturnes now complete is something to be welcomed, and which, from a variety of approaches you prefer is of course a matter of personal taste. If you know Míceál O'Rourke’s performances on the Chandos label then you will be used to a grander, more aristocratic approach than any of the aforementioned players, and you may also admire the elegance of Benjamin Frith on the Naxos label, another pianist who is prepared to add plenty of their own expressive rubato into the mix. There is much to like about Roberte Mamou’s playing of these Nocturnes, and taken on their own terms you will more than likely find yourself easing into their refined domain with no difficulty whatsoever. Being aware that there are other recordings that have a little more of that intangible ‘magic’ may or may not see you desiring to seek further, and as has already been pointed out elsewhere you won’t need this package if you already possess John O’Conor’s now classic recording on Telarc or indeed Elizabeth Joy Roe’s Decca release which manages to squeeze all 18 Nocturnes onto a single disc while being around a minute longer than Mamou’s.

Dominy Clements

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