Ignaz PLEYEL (1757-1831)
Symphony in B flat (1782-4?) [26:37]
Symphony in G (1782-4?) [28:34]
Flute Concerto in C (179x?) [23:52]
Sinfonia Finlandia Jyväskylä/Patrick Gallois (flute)
rec. Suolahti Hall, Jyväskylä, Finland, 2010 NAXOS 8.572550 [79:15]
Second-tier music of the later Classical period can be quite enjoyable, once we get Mozart and Haydn out of our heads. Take these two symphonies by Ignaz Pleyel. They neither attain Mozart's emotional depths nor aspire to Haydn's elegance; on their own terms, however, they're not merely listenable, but actively pleasing. The sonorities, enriched by an independent viola part, are full-bodied, with winds allotted generous if mostly supporting roles. The themes hold the ear, if not the memory. In both scores, Pleyel throws off expectations by casting the opening Allegros in triple time and the slow movements in duple, reversing the usual pattern. The structures as such are clear-cut, however, and it's a credit to the composer's skill that those slow movements never seem square or flatfooted. The minuets and finales follow standard formats.
Patrick Gallois, who's been adding conducting to his solo-flute portfolio, is less impressive than he was in a programme of Haydn symphonies I reviewed some time back (Naxos 8.570761). His tempos are mostly judicious, though he's not quite nailed the first movement of the B flat: the development section feels both short-winded and verbose, and its bristling minor-key episode comes off as more dramatic than the main theme. The tuttis sound a bit thick, partly because of a longish recorded ambience, partly because the supporting wind chords don't always land quite on time. For whatever reason, the resonance is less of a hindrance in the G major, save at the climax of the Andante.
Next to the symphonies, the Flute Concerto seems less interesting. In particular, the sturdy first movement ritornello is a bit staid. Perhaps Gallois's leadership is to blame: here and there, I felt that a more incisive rhythmic address would not be amiss. The concerto is best in the closing Rondo, a 6/8 that manages to sound at once spacious and rollicking.
Gallois is a poised, deft soloist, dashing off a series of quick turns impressively at 11:28 of the first movement. In the top octave, however, his slightly edgy tone pushes sharp, and leaves the listener uneasy where it doesn't. The Jyväskylä orchestra supports him handsomely.
The music is worth getting to know, especially at Naxos prices. But I wish the performances were a bit better.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.