Field: Piano Concertos Nos. 5 and 6 (CD review)

Benjamin Frith, piano; David Haslam, Northern Sinfonia. Naxos 8.554221.

If you aren't familiar with Irish composer John Field (1782-1837), Naxos makes it easy to become acquainted with him. Pianist Benjamin Frith, together with conductor David Haslam and the Northern Sinfonia, have issued almost all of Field's piano concertos, six of seven I believe, in winning performances and pretty good Naxos sound.

I reviewed the First and Third Concertos from Frith several years before this issue and found them entirely fetching; needless to say, I found this newer, 2002 release of the Fifth and Sixth Concertos equally fine. Of course, if you are new to the man's work, I'd advise starting with No. 1 because it remains his most felicitous (and probably most popular) concerto. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in Nos. 5 and 6 as well. The Fifth is especially noteworthy for its depiction of a fire and storm, perhaps some allusion to the war of 1812; it's unclear. I know, however, I had a marginal preference for the greater poetic invention of No. 6. Both concertos sound like pieces from the late Romantic period, but, in fact, they date from 1817 and 1819 respectively, early Romantic.

Benjamin Frith
Field was ahead of his time, and to mark how far ahead, he's the fellow who practically invented the piano nocturne. Odd, then, that these two concertos should have such brief slow movements, No. 2's Adagio lasting a mere two minutes. In each of the concertos, the opening movements last twice as long as the second and third movements combined. Go figure.

The Naxos sound (recorded in 1997, and I don't know why it took them so long to get the disc to market) appears full, warm, and robust when played at a volume approximate to what one might hear from a moderate distance at a live concert. Played back softly, though, the reproduction might disappoint you, because it can sound a bit dull and soggy. The piano seems generally well integrated into the acoustic field, and the occasional loud orchestral outburst will testify to the disc's reasonably wide dynamic range.

Field was once the toast of Europe, but admiration for his work fell off over time. Fortunately, this Naxos series and several Chandos releases among others have helped revive his popularity. It's about time.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

No comments:

Post a Comment

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa