PLEYEL String Quartets
Ignaz Pleyel is one of those figures who seems to pop up everywhere: as both composition student of Haydn and his (it seems reasonably friendly) professional rival in London; as a music publisher and founder of the famous Paris piano firm; as builder of the original Salle Pleyel and eventually the father-in-law of Camille Moke – the beauty whose fickle affections inspired the young Hector Berlioz to dress up in a frock and contemplate murder. Contemporaries rated Pleyel on a level with Haydn: ‘both these composers are men of first-rate talents’, wrote the Public Advertiser of London in January 1792.
I wouldn’t go quite that far. These four string quartets, apparently dating from around 1792, are concise works, each comprising a sonata Allegro followed by one or two shorter movements based on an ‘Air éccossois’ [sic] – Pleyel was tapping into the same market that Haydn would exploit in his own Scottish folksong settings. They’re never less than well made, and there’s plenty of imagination here: the folksong finales, in particular, have an engagingly jaunty lift to them. But even Pleyel’s most ambitious development sections, such as the first movement of Op 42 No 1, don’t come close to matching his teacher’s capacity for fantasy or surprise.
Amiable, unaffected music, then, in – for the most part – amiable, unaffected performances. The Hungarian-based Authentic Quartet play as if they’re a small orchestra and their vibrato-free period-instrument tone has a matte quality, despite the resonant church acoustic. That’s probably liveable with; you might need to make further allowances for scrambled passagework and leader Zsolt Kalló’s occasionally sour intonation. But if you’re keen to discover this music, it’ll probably do for now.