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Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, September 2009

Innocent and attractive concertos from a contemporary of Mozart and Haydn

Haydn’s pupil Ignaz Pleyel is today remembered man as a publisher, piano maker and inventor of the miniature score than for his music. But while he sometimes came under fire for imitating his teacher too closely (in this he was not alone), Pleyel’s concertos, symphonies and, especially, his symphonies concertantes, were hugely popular in Paris and London during the 1780s and early 1790s. The two concertantes recorded here—the B flat for the Mozartian pairing of violin and viola, the A major for two violins—reveal a polished technique and a vein of amiable, on occasion ear-tickling, melodic invention. The A major, composed for London in 1792, is the more attractive of the two, with its plaintive siciliano slow movement and chic rondo finale. There is also a touching rninor-key Adagio, like a wordless aria, in the D major Violin Concerto, played here with the jaunty replacement finale Pleyel supplied for a performance in Strasbourg.

In the first movements of both the Violin Concerto and the B flat Symphonic concertante, Pleyel can amble and chatter to no great purpose. Certainly it would be futile in these leisurely, undemanding works to seek the inventiveness and tight formal control of Haydn who composed his own 1792 Sinfonia concertante in a spirit of friendly rivalry with his one-time pupil. Still, if none of these concertos is as interesting as the best of Pleyel’s symphonies, explorers of the Haydn-Mozart hinterland should find plenty of innocent enjoyment here. Performances are more than acceptable, with trim playing from the (modem-instrument) Baltimore band, and assured solo contributions from David Perry (stylish and sweet-toned in the solo concerto) and his violin and viola partners.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, July 2009

Ignaz Pleyel (1757–1831) did not write a lot of music, and not a lot of his music has been recorded. My first exposure was some years ago, around 1972, when one of these pieces (I believe) was coupled with some Mozart on a Columbia album that featured Pinchas Zukerman as soloist. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but as I was still discovering the infinite variety of riches found in the Austrian composer, Pleyel seemed like another classical period wannabe whose light inevitably flailed in the radiance of Wolfgang. How wrong I was!

The nine or so concertos of varied stripes were composed during the composer’s sojourn in Strasburg, working at a cathedral there. He did not write any during his youth despite the undoubted influence of his teacher Haydn. But as anyone can tell from the unarguable quality of these pieces, the Haydn influence remained. The B-flat work is easily categorized as a true double concerto, replete with all of the sparkle and wit one could want, and effortlessly competitive with just about anyone’s. Well, okay, no one can compete with Mozart’s same combination for violin and viola, but this one is close in quality if not ultimate profundity. The writing is lithe and clearly melodic, while the three-movement work in A (the B-flat has only two movements) has some clever harmonic twists that almost outdo Mozart himself.

The Violin Concerto in D given here actually has two versions, the original from around 1780 and a revision made after he publicly repudiated the first, for reasons unknown. In the revised work he greatly shortened the first two movements and added a completely new rondo, quite different in tone from the original last movement. The folks here have chosen to keep the rondo, but have coupled it with the first version of the concerto, restoring much music that Pleyel discarded. Naxos is offering a download of the first thoughts on the last movement free of charge if you buy this record, and if that interests you. To me the concerto, fairly long of its type in this guise (30 minutes) is still a superb example of Pleyel’s art, and cannot be recommended too highly.

All the soloists and especially Mr Perry play with conviction and a keen sense of style. The Baltimorians are sufficiently attuned to the needs of Pleyel and to appropriate stylistic turns of phrase that make this a most rewarding release in excellent sound. At the price it cannot be beat.

James Manheim, June 2009

The symphonie concertante, the descendant of the Baroque concerto grosso with its opposition of orchestra and solo group, remains a fascinating but little-known genre of the Classical era, with only Haydn’s single example and a pair by Mozart, one of them with a murky history, in common circulation. Viennese composers wrote a few, but in France there are hundreds of unexamined examples of the genre. Thus any recording of this pair by Haydn’s student Ignaz Pleyel (who was one of a staggering 38 children) is welcome; his works share an effusive, intensely sweet tone characteristic of the genre. Pleyel, like his teacher, was not a prolific composer of concertos of any kind. The symphonie concertante accounts for four of his nine concerts; he wrote them for various combinations, but the two here are essentially double concertos, one for violin and viola and the second for two violins. They’re basically strings of melodies; the first work has no slow movement at all, and the second only a short, rather funereal interlude. It is in this overall structure, rather than in the handling of the solo instrument, that the two symphonies concertantes differ from the ordinary violin concerto that closes out the album. The booklet calls them expansive and leisurely, which is one way to look at it. The soloists are all attractive, but the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra under Markand Thakar, looking for a bright sound resembling the German chamber orchestras that used to specialize in the lesser-known music of the Classical period, is less than intonationally precise. The sound, recorded in a small Maryland auditorium, is a strong point, but this release will be of the most interest to Classical specialists.

Robert R. Reilly, May 2009

When I was listening to Ignaz Pleyel’s two delightful Symphonies Concertantes and the Violin Concerto in D on a new Naxos release, I was reminded of Albert Einstein’s remark that “the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” The first thing that came to mind was Mozart’s glorious Sinfonias Concertantes. Why not be influenced by the very best? If you have room for some charm, here it is in Mozartian fashion.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2009

During my years as music director of a so-called “good music” station in Montreal, I was constantly on the lookout for recordings that while not of the hit-parade variety (Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, et sim ad nauseam) still qualified as good classical fare, easily accesible and enjoyable by even novice listeners. Works of the ’Haydn-lite’ variety such as these concertos by Pleyel were then worth their weight in gold. Even if tastes become jaded over time, there is enough melody, drama, humour and even excitement in them—qualities of which the performers in this case take full advantage—the whole recorded in excellent audio, and at just under 80 minutes, an outstanding value!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

Ignaz Pleyel’s life was a success story whether as a composer, conductor, piano manufacture or the proprietor of the most flourishing music publishing house of his time. As a composer he enjoyed more success than Haydn, who lived at much the same time, largely from his ability to promote his output though a chain of distribution outlets on both sides of the Atlantic. History would see that he was stylistically dated even when his music was being composed. To sample his uncomplicated character, turn to track 5, the jog-trot finale to the Symphonie Concertante in A major, and you will find early Haydn as the inspiration. In this genre he composed for a mixed selection of solo instruments—often offering alternatives—here played as a charming double violin concerto. Even in the Rondo finale, it is music at an unhurried pace and of easy-going attraction, the one in the earlier Concertante in B flat for violin and viola coming as a gentle dance. That work is in just two movements with a sturdy and more extended opening.  So far as the Concerto is concerned, two versions exist and are enumerated in the enclosed booklet. I do find it strange that the recording links two movements from one with the finale of the other, but maybe I am missing something in the reasoning. Suffice it to say that it is a work of outgoing brilliance and impact, the American-born soloist, David Perry, revelling in the challenges offered. Victoria Chiang’s viola and Isabella Lippi’s second violin are admirable in the Concertantes, while the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra add a well balanced and cleanly detailed accompaniment.

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