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Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831)
String Quartet in E flat Op.2 No.4 (1784) [18:42]
String Quartet in B flat Op.2 No.5 (1784) [18:06]
String Quartet in D Op.2 No.6 (1784) [19:51]
Ensō Quartet
rec. Holy Martyrs Church, Bradford, Ontario, January, February 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557497 [56:38]

Ignaz 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).
 
The 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 of all.
 
The 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.
 
It 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.
 
Patrick C Waller

see also review by Göran Forsling
 

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