“It will be a lucky day for music if, when the time comes, Pleyel should replace Haydn”, wrote Mozart in a famous letter. Music was not so lucky (well, there was Beethoven, of course); but Ignaz Joseph Pleyel – born near Vienna the year after Mozart, and outliving Beethoven and Schubert – was a major figure in his day, working in Strasbourg and then Paris, not only as composer but also as publisher and piano maker. It is salutary to hear symphonies of the time of the mature Mozart and Haydn but by another composer. Pleyel had a strong and solid technique, a good command of form and considerable enterprise in his ideas, but his melodies are not distinctive and his taste had limitations.
The earliest of the three symphonies here, the one in D minor and major, has echoes of Don Giovanni in its slow introduction, and its main Allegro begins purposefully but does not sustain its tension. The C major work too has an imposing introduction that promises far more than the ensuing Allegro realizes, with its hint of Rossinian mischievous high spirits. Most of the slow movements have some element of variation form, but are more ornamental (especially in terms of orchestral colour) than symphonic. There are attractively eccentric ideas in some of the minuets but then come dullish trios, two of them flute fripperies with a light accompaniment (listen with Haydn in mind, No. 101 for example, and you will see what distinguishes the master). The finales are spirited pieces, especially of the work in D, but the others at times border on the banal, notably the G major one with its pseudo-rural bagpipy sounds (again, think of Haydn, No. 104).
An interesting disc then, in a rather limited sense; but the music could ask for no livelier or more attentive advocates than the London Mozart Players under Matthias Bamert, who respond keenly to its variety of moods, from the sombre to the frivolous.'