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Ignaz PLEYEL (1757 – 1831)
String Quartets, Op. 2 Nos. 4-6

String Quartet in E flat major, Op. 2 No. 4 [18:42]; String Quartet in B flat major, Op. 2 No. 5 [18:06]; String Quartet in D major, Op. 2 No. 6 [19:51]
Ensō Quartet

rec. Holy Martyrs Church, Bradford, Ontario, Canada, 31 January – 4 February 2004
NAXOS 8.557497 [56:38]

Reviewing the companion disc with the first three quartets from Op. 2 (Naxos 8.554696) (review) I expressed my delight at both the playing and the music itself. These quartets have been unplayed and unheard for far too long. The delight is undiminished after hearing this sequel, played with a freshness of tone and approach and an almost nonchalant elegance that is really infectious.

In his day Pleyel was revered as one of the foremost contemporary composers. His present day reputation rests mainly on his activities as a piano manufacturer and on the concert hall in Paris, carrying his name, Salle Pleyel.

Contrary to the norm of the time - read Haydn - most of his quartets are three-movement structures, the only exception being the E flat major quartet on this disc. The Allegro first movement starts and ends with a few dark chords but in between the movement is filled with vitality and light. The second movement, Adagio, is decidedly elegiac in character, hardly moving at all during the first three minutes; then, after a long pause, it takes a new direction but the whole movement is one of sighs. The following minuet has an almost rustic charm, far from the artificial staterooms where the string quartets belonged. It is frustratingly short, just 1:23, but the positive atmosphere is retained in the energetic Allegro assai, superbly played as with the rest of the quartet.

The quartet in B flat major is also one that revives the spirits. The Allegro is light and springy, dominated by the first violin, the Andante cantabile is a sunny idyll and the concluding Rondo: Grazioso dances and smiles. No conflicts here and it ends with a joyful accelerando.

The D major quartet is also high-spirited music but the Allegro has some streaks of melancholy. It is worth noticing how inventively Pleyel "orchestrates" the music. There is a charmingly melodic Allegretto that almost cries out for a suitable text. The melody is then elaborated in a series of most inventive variations. The quartet, and the whole set, is then rounded off with a brief Presto movement, played attacca. The four instruments gallop along like four eager Ascot horses abreast.

An utterly stimulating issue, like its forerunner, excellently recorded by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver. The liner notes, by Allan Badley, are identical with the ones for volume one and could preferably have been a little more explicit about each of the quartets. On the other hand this is music that explains itself, so why bother. This is music for happy listening.

Göran Forsling

 

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