Ignace (or Ignaz) Pleyel (1757-1831) had a life filled with incident. Born near Vienna, he studied first with Vanhal and then with Haydn, actually living with the Haydns for a time. He then became Kapellmeister to Count Erdödy, a relative of Haydn's patron, Count Esterhazy. But before long he felt the need for more musical education and he spent a long time in Italy, soaking up the musical atmosphere there. After a successful stay in London, he settled in France. He was arrested for aristocratic sympathies during the French Revolution and spent time in prison, gaining his release only after he had written a jingoistic hymn praising the Revolution, 'La révolution du 10 août 1792, ou Le tocsin allégorique.' In 1795 in Paris he opened a music shop, became a music publisher (making a specialty of the then-new miniature score) and then started manufacturing pianos. For most of us his name conjures memories of accounts of concerts at the Salle Pleyel or of pianists who preferred playing Pleyel pianos and, of course of Wanda Landowska and her monster Pleyel harpsichord.
But Pleyel was a fine composer for whom writing string quartets played a major role in his oeuvre. He wrote somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 quartets, most of them written in a ten year period in the 1780s and 1790s. His Opus 1 is a set of six quartets and they were followed immediately by the present set, Op. 2, of which we have on this CD the first three in A, C and g. Like most of his quartets, they are each in three movements -- apparently he didn't subscribe to Haydn's notion that a quartet should have four movements -- generally with a fast-slow-fast sequence (although No. 3 reverses that format). He tended to reject Haydn's elaborate developments, preferring rather to write works that were primarily lyrical in thrust. He was a fecund inventor of memorable melodies and these three quartets are ample proof of that. I particularly like the slow movement of the Op. 2, No. 2 in C Major, for all that the accompaniment is primarily an Alberti bass; its melody is meltingly beautiful, reminding me of the sort of songful melodies Schubert was to write thirty years later. Indeed these quartets are most notable for the seemingly endless variety of melodies that poured out of Pleyel.
The Enso Quartet comprises four young string players who met while attending graduate school at Yale where they worked with the Tokyo String Quartet. Individually they had studied at The Juilliard School, Curtis Institute of Music, Royal Northern College of Music (UK) and the University of Canterbury (New Zealand). They have won various quartet-prizes including that of the prestigious Banff International String Quartet Competition. This CD is their recording debut and an auspicious one it is. Their playing is musical, subtle, and unfailingly interesting. The recorded sound is very natural with air around the mass of sound just as one would hear it in a moderate-sized hall. One looks forward to hearing more from this fine group. Their name 'Enso' comes from the Japanese Zen word that denotes a painting of a circle that represents, among other things, perfection. The quartet's members are Richard Belcher, cello, Melissa Reardon, viola, John Marcus and Maureen Nelson, violins.
An unhesitant recommendation.