Apart from some historians and musical anoraks, John Field isn't a name that many will have heard of. What a pity, as his music is consistently graceful and joyous. The highly decorative, ornamented quality of the music inevitably suggests, not unfairly, Chopin. And anyone interested in the development of the Romantic piano concerto shouldn't fail to investigate his music. Listening to it today, Field's influence on composers such as Hummel, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt are easy to hear in the promotion of the soloist to the position of star performer, the reduction of the orchestral part to a supporting role and the freeing up of the classical sonata form.
So, to the performances. They're thoroughly excellent and enjoyable. Frith skips and dances his way through the intricate passagework, bringing the seemingly never-ending figurations to life. His fleet-fingered playing never fails to make you listen and follow the contours of the musical line. Try the wonderfully nonchalant passage in the 5th concerto (track one, beginning 6.22 through to the end of the exposition.) Mention must also be made of the accompaniment of the Northern Sinfonia under David Halsam. They give subtle support to the pianist, even if at times I felt that they could be slightly more ebullient. The bright recording sometimes produces a hint of fierceness in the treble of the piano, but it is at least up to the standard of the more established (expensive?) companies. Finally, at a superbudget price this CD is a true bargain. It would be desirable even if were at the top end of the price range. There's no real reason not to explore this music by an under-rated and sadly forgotten composer.
(Incidentally, the other issues in this concerto survey are the equal of the present recording. Try the coupling of No.2 & No.4 for another super combination of wonderful music with top-notch performances.)