Wednesday 7 September 2016

Benjamin Frith completes his John Field concerto series in performances that bring this music alive

Irish composer and pianist John Field (1782-1837) was born in Dublin and received his earliest musical instruction from his father and Tommaso Giordani (c.1730-1806). He travelled to London where he was apprenticed to Muzio Clementi (1752-1832).

He established himself as a concert pianist and published his works before undertaking a successful continental tour with Clementi in 1802-03. He arrived in St. Petersburg where he established a great reputation for himself, teaching, composing and giving concerts there and in Moscow until his death.

There have been a number of complete recordings of his seven piano concertos, none finer than those made by Benjamin Frith  with the Northern Sinfonia  conducted by David Haslam for Naxos . Sadly only concertos 1 – 6 were issued leaving the series incomplete.

The extremely good news is that Naxos  have now released Benjamin Frith’s recording of Field’s two movement Piano Concerto No. 7, made in 1996 with David Haslam and the Northern Sinfonia coupled with the so called Irish Concerto, a reworking of a movement from Field’s second concerto and the Piano Sonata No. 4 that completed Frith’s recordings of all four sonatas.


Hushed timpani rolls open the orchestral introduction to the Allegro moderato of Piano Concerto No. 7 in C Minor, H. 58 with some lovely orchestral touches beautifully shaped by David Haslam and the Northern Sinfonia. When Benjamin Frith enters he brings an absolutely terrific breadth and panache, soon finding some lovely delicate phrases. Frith brings this music alive, finding every little detail and nuance with, at times, a sense of playfulness. Centrally there is a very Chopinesque section with limpid, delicately phrased ideas. This pianist develops some gorgeous passages as well as moments of terrific bravura and brio.

Both soloist and orchestra bring a real rhythmic lift to the Rondo: Allegro moderato creating a lovely dialogue that is immediately appealing. Again there are moments of playfulness with the Northern Sinfonia bringing a real lightness of touch. Frith’s fluidity in the faster passages is impressive with some Chopinesque runs across the keyboard. This might be two allegro moderatos side by side but there is so much fine invention and variety that the two movement format works extremely well. Later the music moves through a wonderfully fluid passage for piano before a trumpet heralds a new passage, slower and woven through the woodwind to which the piano joins to bring a light and buoyant lead up to the coda.

The recording made at St. Nicholas’ Hospital, Gosforth, Tyne and Wear, England is excellent.

Andrew Mogrelia conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra  in the 2014 recording of the one movement so called Irish Concerto: Allegro moderato (1816/1961) (arr. H. Priegnitz) a reworking of the first movement of Field’s Piano Concerto No.2 in A flat major. The orchestral strings introduce a fine melody to which woodwind join adding some lovely touches. Andrew Mogreliac and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra turn in a quite lovely performance to which Frith brings his fine touch, revealing some beautifully fluent, often richly toned phrases, bringing a real feeling of spontaneity. There are moments of great wit and charm from both soloist and orchestra with a beautifully shaped central section. Later there is a passage of great feeling and tension with both soloist and orchestra finding many subtleties before finding a calm coda. This is a work that is perhaps a little sprawling but it is full of so many lovely moments.

They are well recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, Scotland.

Benjamin Frith brings a spectacularly fine Piano Sonata No. 4 in B Major, H. 17a recorded in 2013. He develops the Moderato brilliantly, subtly rising through some very fine passages, bringing an almost Beethovenian strength. The Rondo: Moderato opens with some lightly buoyant passages before leading through some sparkling moments, Frith shaping and colouring the music to perfection, running through some terrific fluent, richly textured passages. This performance is a real joy.

The recording made at the Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex, England is slightly resonant but very good nevertheless.

For me, these are the performances of choice. If you’ve previously been collecting this series then this latest and final instalment will be extremely welcome. If you haven’t then now is a good time to start. 

There are informative booklet notes. 

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