PLEYEL String Quartets
This bodes well: ‘Hidden Gems, Vol 1’. Ignaz Joseph Pleyel is a name more remembered for his piano firm than for his compositions, but that – as with so many also-rans in musical history – is not entirely just. Born a year after Mozart and dying four years after Beethoven, he studied with Vanhal and then Haydn, who regarded him as his finest student. In his own lifetime Pleyel enjoyed wild popularity, especially for his string quartets, and it’s not difficult to hear why: charm may be looked upon dubiously these days but these pieces burrow their way into your affection in a most beguiling manner. He learnt much from Haydn – not least in the equality between the instruments and a taste for unexpected harmonic escapades.
The three quartets here, all premiere recordings, date from 1792 and are cast in three movements. Musically there’s much to delight: the touching theme of the Adagio of the F major Quartet, Ben359, for instance, or the same quartet’s variation-form finale, in which the lilting theme is developed with great imagination. Another highlight is the slow movement of Ben360, which is duly relished here, though I did wonder if it would have sounded even more striking at a slightly faster pace. Pacing bothered me elsewhere, too, not least in the opening Allegro affettuoso of the D major Quartet, Ben361, which seems a touch staid, and the same quartet’s Adagio, which sounds over-romanticised to these ears. But the finales of both come off very convincingly.
Such music would wilt in indifferent hands but the Ignaz Pleyel Quartet are fervent and warm advocates, and the release is rounded out by a fascinating booklet essay. Let’s hope there’s more to come.