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Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831)
String Quartets, Op.2, Nos. 1-3

String Quartet in A major, op 2 No.1 [17:19]
(1. Allegro [8:49]; 2. Andante grazioso [5:19]; 3. Menuetto [3:11])
String Quartet in C major, op.2 No.3 [17:52]
(4. Allegro moderato [7:27]; 5. Adagio cantabile [4:57]; 6. Finale: Allegro [5:27])
String Quartet in G minor, op.2 No.3 [20:30]
(7. Adagio [6:51]; 8. Allegro assai [7:25]; 9. Grazioso [6:14])
Enső Quartet
rec. Holy Martyrs Church, Bradford, Ontario, Canada, 31 January-4 February 2004
NAXOS 8.557496 [55:40]


These are thoroughly congenial, Classical quartets cut, in the main, from Haydn’s cloth and made even more attractive by the fine performances of the young Enső quartet. If this is indeed their debut disc it’s an auspicious start, though Pleyel’s virtuosic concertante first violin writing doesn’t always give one the opportunity to appreciate their corporate tonal homogeneity as one would ideally like.

Pleyel was a pupil of Haydn and the influence is pervasive though not oppressive. Allegros, such as that of the A major, are buoyant, carefully laid out and defined toward the first violin. The Andante of the same quartet, unusually all three quartets are in three movements, is weighted toward the middle voicings, the viola-rich writing imparting autumnal colours in this expertly realised performance. They take a freely moving tempo as well, managing to retain expressive potential whilst avoiding any sense of lagging. There’s easy swing in the Menuetto finale, capped by a Mozartian throwaway ending.

The second in the set of Op.2 – a set greatly appreciated by Mozart – features an even more powerful concertante role for Maureen Nelson, the first violin. It’s almost proto-Spohr in its cavalier domination of the ensemble texture though it doesn’t rise much beyond the realm of Classicism and certainly breaches no stylistic boundaries. The lower voiced drones are well brought out, the little silences in the fabric of the opening timed to perfection. The slow movement is warmly lyric though it sports an underlying dance rhythm in the cello part. And in the finale the drones are more explicitly brought out with the fast passagework in the first violin part adding its own tensile drama to the proceedings.

The G minor, No.3, opens with an intense, but tuneful, Adagio. It sports an arresting B section and makes an altogether powerful impression through its vocalised power – it’s almost a transplanted operatic scena. The following Allegro is breathlessly etched but cleanly articulated, firm and strong, with those lower string ascents and descents full of colour and theatrical drama. We end, quite suitably, with an example of Pleyel at his grazioso best in the finale – with an admixture of real refinement and, in the best sense, artifice.

As already noted these players never skate over the surface of the music, some of which could easily be taken for granted as by rote classicism (which it is not). The second volume to complete Op.2 should be on its way and will be well worth waiting for.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Reviews by Gwyn Parry-Jones and Göran Forsling


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