Pleyel was born in the year after Mozart and studied with
Haydn during the 1770s. He became a prolific composer with
57 quartets to his name. In later life he travelled and diversified
into publishing and making pianos. Much of his music seems
to have been forgotten but Naxos has come to the rescue with
two discs of his Op.2 quartets released in quick succession.
There is also a worthwhile disc of three symphonies on the
same label from a few years ago (8.554696).
Ensō Quartet’s disc of the first three Op.2 quartets
has received a warm welcome in these pages and elsewhere.
More of the same is on offer here – music with much grace
and charm which plumbs no emotional depths. Pleyel adopts
some of the humorous touches of his mentor but Haydn’s sense
of humour was certainly more “wicked”. There is also evidence
of Italianate influences. Within the conventional constraints
of the time quite a bit of variation is on offer. Pleyel
favoured three movement quartets (Haydn’s usually have four)
but the fourth of this set is an exception with an additional
brief minuet placed third. As in the first three quartets,
there is no set pattern for the movements although the opener
is always the most substantial. Whereas the second movement
of No. 4 is an Adagio, the “slow” movement of No.
6 is marked Allegretto and leads directly into the Presto finale
without a break. The fifth of the series has a particularly
memorable middle movement and is perhaps the most attractive
youthful Ensō Quartet was formed in 1999 and is based
in North America. Their name has a Japanese derivation and
the previous issue in this series was their first recording.
They make a good case for the music, emphasising its relaxed,
genial nature with cultured playing. The recording sound
is very natural and the issue well-documented with a delightful
engraving of Vienna’s pleasure gardens by Ziegler on the
front cover. Curiously, the advertisement for the previous
disc which sits behind the disc in a transparent casing shows
what I presume is another engraving from the same source
but my copy has a picture of the Ensō quartet.
would be idle to pretend that Pleyel’s inspiration was on
the same level as Haydn’s. Nevertheless, the music on the
disc is well-worth hearing and would be perfect if you require
something undemanding at the end of the day.