John Field (1782-1837) is an elusive figure in 19th century music, an Irish pianist and composer who, for almost three decades, sustained a successful career in Russia.
Many consider that his music, compared to later romantic composers such as Schumann, Chopin and Liszt, doesn't have the same emotional density and power; he may be credited with "inventing" the Nocturne, but Chopin took it into the realm of high art.
When Liszt edited Field's Nocturnes for publication, he praised them with purple pen as "half-formed sighs floating through the air, softly lamenting and dissolved in delicious melancholy". American pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe also takes Field very seriously in this attractive recording of these works.
Roe's own booklet essay hails them as "a sort of universal music, transcending the bounds of geography and time, a reminder of Night's eternal allure and our enduring dreams of escape, oblivion and communion".
Her persuasive interpretations easily support such claims and reveal a composer unjustly marginalised. What might have been museum pieces have life and vibrancy, through her restrained rubato and sensitive voicings, necessary when Field's textures don't always have the airy spaciousness of Chopin's.
She deftly moves from major to minor in the opening E flat Nocturne and massages the quite startling dissonances of another in A flat major. The potential finger tangles of a Nocturne pastorale are gracefully overcome and the beams of a noontide sun break out in a sprightly, sparkling "Nocturne caracteristique."
Field, Complete Nocturnes (Decca)
Verdict: US pianist makes strong case for father of the Nocturne