Elizabeth Joy Roe Performs Field’s Complete Nocturnes

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COMPOSERS: Field
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Field
WORKS: Complete Nocturnes
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Joy Roe (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 478 9672  

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A number of composers who were influential in their day have, with hindsight, barely stood the test of time. In the sphere of Romantic piano music, John Field’s significance was estimable: he is credited with inventing the genre of Nocturne, a keyboard miniature inspired by atmospheres of darkness, dreams and intimacy. It was later, of course, carried to imaginative heights by Chopin and Fauré, to say nothing of Debussy’s for orchestra. 

Field, born in Dublin and educated in London under Clementi, settled in Russia and toured widely as a pianist celebrated for his tone quality and poetic sincerity. Among those who heaped lavish praise upon him and his nocturnes was Franz Liszt himself. 

The American pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe has elected to record all 18 of the nocturnes; a nice idea, but in effect a programme of music that involves way too little contrast. Dynamics rarely rise above mezzo-piano; patterns repeat sometimes ad nauseam. It makes pleasant enough, if not exactly riveting, listening, and the ‘Nocturne caratéristique’ H13 is worth hearing, offering a less soporific take. Those listeners who love relaxing chillout minimalism, though, may find themselves having, er, a Field day.

Roe’s playing is tender and graceful, with a delicate, songful touch, and she balances the various elements judiciously and always with attention to detail. But even her best efforts can’t imbue all the nocturnes with enough substance; and the total effect is not enhanced by a piano whose upper register in several pieces is audibly losing its tuning.

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Jessica Duchen