Composer: Although a mere blip on the radar screen these days, Pleyel (1757-1831) 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. #1 and #2 employ the customary fast-slow-fast regime, while #3 reverses the order in the first two movements.
Musical Highlights: #1 has a sun-drenched first movement that always brings a smile to my face and glow to my spirit. The slow movements of #1 and #2 possess wonderful melodies, #1 having the added benefit of being cloaked in mystery. When we turn to the 2nd Movement Allegro assai of #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 #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 #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 #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.
Copyright © 2005/2006, Don Satz