Field: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A flat; Piano Concerto No. 4 in E flat

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WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in A flat; Piano Concerto No. 4 in E flat
PERFORMER: Benjamin Frith (piano); Northern Sinfonia/David Haslam
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553771
If you’d invented the nocturne and were widely considered the greatest pianist of your age, you might expect more blessings than posterity has chosen to shower upon John Field. But after a long sojourn in the Siberia of obscurity, Field may at last be coming in from the cold, thanks in part to the attentions of enterprising labels like Naxos. Their project to record the seven Field piano concertos now arrives at volume 2, covering nos 2 and 4. The only problem is that the CD gives rise to a nasty suspicion that posterity may have been right for once. There is plenty of melodic charm here, but the effect is often vitiated by structures that lead the players to a virtual impasse and a grandiose sense of scale (both first movements approach 20 minutes) that the material routinely fails to sustain. All of which actually makes for interesting listening, particularly as the Northern Sinfonia and Benjamin Frith are exemplary. Frith’s playing is confident but never brash, his articulation in frequent virtuosic outbursts impeccably measured while lyrical passages are graceful and touching. The pre-echoes of Chopin are certainly there, and much else besides makes this a failure well worth hearing. Christopher Wood