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John FIELD (1782-1837)
Piano Concerto No. 7 in C Minor, H. 58A [31:55]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A - Flat Major, H. 31: I. Allegro moderato (arr. H. Priegnitz as ‘Irish Concerto’) [22:40]
Piano Sonata No. 4 in B Major, H. 17A [11:38]
Benjamin Frith (piano)
Northern Sinfonia/David Haslam (Concerto no.7) Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Andrew Mogrelia (‘Irish Concerto’).
rec. St. Nichols’ Hospital, Gosforth, Tyne and Wear, 11 – 12 June 1996 (7); Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland on 13 August 2014 (2); Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, 22 June 2013 (Sonata).
NAXOS 8.573262 [66:13]

I started collecting Benjamin Frith’s Field concerto recordings about twenty years ago and was dismayed when Naxos had apparently stopped after releasing concertos 1–6 (1/3: 8.553770; 2/4: 8.553771; 5/6: 8.554221). Now, after a very long wait, they have released the last disc of these works. This disc also brings us the last of the Sonatas to complete Frith’s set of Sonata recordings as well.

I’d forgotten what an unusually structured and difficult work the Seventh Concerto is – although divided into two main sections, there are numerous sub-sections and there is little time for the soloist to catch his breath. The second and final movement is supposed to represent a Russian ballroom scene with alternating dance-like sections.

The first movement (an Allegro moderato) starts off with a long orchestral introduction before the piano enters with a powerful statement which rapidly develops into a florid tune around 5:00. This bounces along rather charmingly with some nice accompaniment from the orchestra. Here, the soloist and orchestra are in perfect alignment. This atmosphere of relaxed virtuosity continues until about 8:00 where things get stormier again with some quite complex passagework. This is before the orchestra takes flight, giving the soloist a much needed rest. The pianist returns with a theme which was pinched from one of Field’s nocturnes. This is beautifully played here with just the right amount of nonchalance. The peace is abruptly shattered at 10:00 with virtuoso writing for piano and some involved orchestral work – lots of chromatic scales and leaping about. However, the composer clearly knew what he was doing and the tension and power here is rapidly diminished into something more reflective. Again, this doesn’t last too long as around 14:00 we are back to more agitated music. Once again, this recedes into the distance before returning for the last two minutes of the movement. There is much humour in the piano part throughout this movement and this element is brought out well by Mr. Frith. He is ably assisted by the Northern Sinfonia. Throughout this first movement, although there is a vast difference in temperament between the different sections, the whole piece holds together very well and does not come across as a series of linked passages glued together.

The second movement starts with a cheerful orchestral tune in a dance-like manner. This is soon taken up by the pianist. Again, there is more nonchalance here coupled with a sunny demeanour. I am reminded slightly of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance (Op. 65) by the small sections of orchestral fragments which interlink between the parts where the piano and orchestra play together. There is much music here which could be described as jolly and cheerful and this atmosphere is well projected by the soloist. Someone once described Chopin’s early piano and orchestral works as “kittenish” and I would use this term to describe this work too. The last three or so minutes are mostly for orchestra. At 11:00 there is a part which is a little more tension filled. This gives the woodwind sections an opportunity to shine - especially the solo clarinettist who is superb. I really like this movement as it strikes me as a happy uncomplicated dance piece. The pianist does an exemplary job here and the orchestra match him in all respects. If you are feeling a bit down, this joyful piece could well be the sort of music that will cheer you up.

The so-called “Irish Concerto” is an arrangement by Hans Priegnitz, made in 1961, of the first movement of Field’s 2nd concerto. This version includes a Nocturne section which was not found in the composer's original 1817 version. It therefore works out around three minutes longer than Benjamin Frith’s recording of the first movement of the second concerto. Despite this, it comes across as a generally more standard structure than the Seventh Concerto. The nocturne episode fits in well here and does not interfere with the flow of the music. There is a long introductory tutti before the soloist enters with a jaunty theme with slight orchestral accompaniment. The piece itself is not vastly dissimilar from the original – here and there the orchestration is ‘beefed up’ but not in a way that is out of keeping with the original. This piece is, rather like the Seventh Concerto, made up of a series of sections which differ in temperament and mood. Overall though the piece still holds together very well. Again, this is another happy work with plenty of virtuosity for the soloist and the orchestra but unlike the Seventh Concerto, this ends quietly without a flurry of activity from the soloist. There is a slight difference in acoustic between this and the earlier recording as the piano is a little more forwardly placed and the recording location acoustic is slightly warmer. However, it is an interesting piece and well worth a listen. As far as I have been able to ascertain, it does not seem to have been recorded before.

The last two tracks on this disc contain Field’s last piano sonata, H17a (Op.4) dating from 1813. This is a relaxed affair comprising two movements (like the earlier Sonatas published as Op.1). Both movements are given the tempo marking of ‘Moderato’ although the second movement is a Rondo as well. This is genial stuff, very well played; the Rondo finale is particularly bouncy and happy and will probably stick in your head. I would describe the work as charming. There is no feeling of angst or any strange key changes or anything clashing. It is just very pleasant and interesting.

Overall, this is a great disc, thoroughly enjoyable and certainly well worth seeking out. I would also recommend Mr. Frith’s earlier CDs in this series as these are just as good. I am left pondering why it took Naxos so long to release this disc. I see that the Seventh Concerto recording dates from 1996 and the remainder of the disc from 2013.

Jonathan Welsh
There are alternative recordings of the Field Piano Concertos and two of these have been reviewed here:
Míceál O'Rourke (Chandos)
Paolo Restani (Brilliant Classics)



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