Ignaz Joseph Pleyel (1757-1831)
Quartet in A major, Op. 2, no. 1
Quartet in C major, Op. 2, no. 2
Quartet in G minor, Op. 2, no. 3
Released December 2005
Naxos 8.557496 [55:40]
Composer: Although a mere blip on the radar screen these days, Pleyel
studied under Joseph Haydn in the 1770's and was the most popular European
composer after Haydn's death. Pleyel's music certainly shows its debt
to Haydn's guidance, but what strikes me most about it is the Italianate
connection, a connection that I find most pleasing.
The String Quartets: Pleyel wrote 6 string quartets under the Op. 2
umbrella. They are excellent creations, full of warmth, charm, wit,
and elegance. The architecture is thoroughly expert, and melodic content
is abundant and often gorgeous. On the debit side, depth of expression
and strong tension are not usually on display. All the Op. 2 Quartets
are in three movements. Nos. 1 and 2 employ the customary fast-slow-fast
regime, while No. 3 reverses the order in the first two movements.
Musical Highlights: No. 1 has a sun-drenched first movement that always
brings a smile to my face and glow to my spirit. The slow movements of
Nos. 1 and 2 possess wonderful melodies, No. 1 having the added benefit
of being cloaked in mystery. When we turn to the 2nd Movement Allegro
assai of No. 3, we find the tension and abandon largely absent elsewhere
on the program; it's a compelling contrast and well worth the wait.
Disappointment: There is one movement, the first of No. 3, that does
not appeal at all with its hum-drum melodic content turned over again
and again. I consider this an aberration.
Performances: A group of young adults, the Enso Quartet met while engaged
in graduate studies at Yale University. This is a 'hot' group, and I
predict they will quickly rise in reputation. Ensemble work is nearly
perfect, and the group's identification with Pleyel's sound world is
complete. Their interpretations ooze with the music's Italianate nature,
and the elegance and grace they convey is exceptional. At the same time,
the members know how to 'crack the whip' as they display some tremendous
raw power in the 2nd Movement of No. 3.
Sonics: First-rate sound with a lively acoustic that still allows for
exquisite detail. The soundstage has a great bloom to it, and Pleyel's
music is the beneficiary.
What's Next?: As I speak, Naxos is distributing the second recording in
this series (Op. 2 nos. 4-6). No need to rush - there are plenty of
copies for all.
Don's Conclusions: Ignaz Pleyel is definitely one of the better composers
of the Classical era, and I strongly recommend acquisition of this
superbly played and recorded Naxos recording.
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