Pleyel: 3 Sonatas for Keyboard, Violin & Cello, B 437-9

IPG Pleyel Klaviertrio
ARS 38 203
TT

Today it is hard to imagine that in 1790s London (and indeed in Europe) the music of Ignaz Pleyel enjoyed a reputation nearly the equal of that of Haydn, although efforts to pit them as rivals in England foundered on the friendship between Haydn and his one-time pupil. Incidentally, the generally poor notes for the present disc garble the story of Haydn’s unfortunate ‘appropriation’ of two of Pleyel’s trios; it is surely absurd to suggest that Haydn did so because he recognised that the latter’s fame had ‘eclipsed’ his own.

There were certainly a sufficient number of Pleyel piano trios to choose from. Between 1784 and 1803 he composed no fewer than 49 trios for keyboard, ‘with accompaniment for violin (or flute) and violoncello’ as such works were invariably designated during the 18th century. The present group dates from 1790 and was published in various European centres across Europe. All three are poised, highly agreeable works that display their composer’s craftsmanship in spades; if not the masterpieces the notes would claim them to be, neither do they measure up to H C Robbins Landon’s dismissive verdict that the mature Pleyel ‘debased the whole Haydn style’ when he started to ape the latter’s ‘popular style’. On the present disc both B 438 in G and B 439 in E flat conclude with the kind of ‘catchy rondo’ to which HCRL objects and while that of the G-major is not especially distinguished, among the many felicitous moments in the E flat-major’s Rondo is an episode with a delicious counter-melody for the violin. It is in fact the two-movement B 439 that is probably the pick of this group. The opening Allegro con fuoco of the same work is unusually dramatic by Pleyel’s standards, with some gruff Beethovenian exchanges between the piano’s lower register and the violin. Both the other works are in the expected three movements, the secondary subject of the opening Allegro molto adding spice to the proceedings with touches of chromaticism.

I have little but praise for the period instrument performances of the Austrian-based IPG Pleyel Klaviertrio, which are not only technically highly impressive, but also exceptionally musical. The fluency of fortepianist Varvara Manukyan’s playing of an 1830 Pleyel is especially admirable, the passagework absolutely even, beautifully phrased and cleanly articulated. This is one of an extensive series issued under the auspices of the Internationale Ignaz Pleyel Gesellschaft (IPG), based in the composer’s birthplace, Ruppersthal. I’m rather ashamed to say I haven’t previously come across it, but will now certainly look out for future additions.

Brian Robins