Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831)
Prussian Quartets nos. 4-6
String Quartet in C, B.334 (1786) [19:24]
String Quartet in A, B.335 (1786) [19:50]
String Quartet in E flat, B.336 (1786) [19:14]
Pleyel Quartett Köln (Ingeborg Scheerer (violin); Verena Schoneweg (violin); Andreas Gerhardus (viola); Nicholas Selo (cello))
rec. Pauluskirche, Dellbrück, Cologne, 16-18 February 2010. DDD
CPO 777 551-2 [58:44] 

Although a fair bit of Austrian composer Ignaz Pleyel's music is now available on CD, there is a long way to go before all the String Quartets are recorded. The B numbers in the track-listing refer to Rita Benton's thematic catalogue of Pleyel's works, published in 1977. By her reckoning, there are an incredible 74 known String Quartets by Pleyel, plus a further six that can double up as Flute Quartets, and another eight in which Pleyel has cannily recycled some of his originals by adding new movements. The grand total is significantly more even than the "around sixty" indicated by the booklet notes.
As with Pleyel's 48 Symphonies, that number makes his a significant contribution to the genre, all the more so considering the fact that he wrote nearly all of them in the decade 1782-92. If that is suggestive of a production-line mentality, then whilst it is true that Pleyel did not blaze any musical trails, nor indeed hesitate to chop and change movements to create 'new' works for publishers, his music was extremely popular in his lifetime. Above all this was because it was always extremely elegantly crafted, melodious and imaginative, with an abundance of memorable themes enhanced by surprising harmonic colourations and rhythmic deviations. Pleyel's deep musical intelligence - undoubtedly heightened by his exposure to Europe's finest minds through his publishing house, which produced among other things a complete edition of Haydn's own Quartets - takes the unequivocal mellifluousness of these works way beyond mere crowd-pleasing functionality into the realms of sophisticated artistry.
Besides the present CD, the Luigi Tomasini Quartet have recorded op.11 1-3 on Hungaroton (HCD 32593, 2009), the American Ensō Quartet have recorded B.307-312 across two releases for Naxos half a dozen years ago (review, review). The only other monograph seems to be the Pleyel Quartet Köln's previous recording for CPO, of the 'Prussian' Quartets nos.7-9, released in 2008 to considerable critical approbation (777 315-2).
That praise is sure to be repeated with this second volume, where the attractive confidence, technical mastery and telepathic ensemble playing that characterised the first disc is again everywhere in evidence. All four players are given ample space to shine by Pleyel's quite evenly-distributed parts, and none disappoints. As a matter of fact, the PQK give as historically authentic a performance as is possible here, by dint of consultation of two early editions of the Quartets and their fine-sounding period instruments, all originals from the 1700s. With luck, the PQK will be persuaded by CPO to record in due course the remaining six 'Prussian' Quartets - thus nicknamed, incidentally, because they were dedicated to the King of Prussia.
Sound quality is very good. Microphones have been thoughtfully placed so as not to pick up much breathing noise from the players. There is one audible editing join, about halfway through the E flat Quartet, but it is fairly unobtrusive and in general production values are set to high.
The booklet notes by Klaus Aringer are informative and scholarly, although when it comes to a discussion of the music, Aringer does show a tendency towards technical detail. The translation is reasonably good. Incidentally, Pleyel's talent as a composer also rubbed off on his son Camille, a fine disc of whose piano music appeared last year on Gramola - see review.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Attractive confidence, technical mastery and telepathic ensemble playing.