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The Consort

David J Golby

Volume 66, Summer 2010

Ignaz Pleyel Symphony in D major, Benton 147,
Edition HH, HH 401.FSC, Bicester 2008
(pbk, full score £20)
ISMN 979 0 708059 80 6

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing a number of Pleyel trios published by Doblinger, and I am delighted to see the appearance of more Pleyel editions (and recordings) from a variety of quarters. It is good to observe the rehabilitation of this extremely gifted composer, whose best work epitomises so many of the stylistic traits of his more famous contemporaries, and who has been unjustly neglected for far too long.

Contemporary audiences and critics were fully aware of the qualities of Ignace Joseph [Ignaz Josef] Pleyel (1757-1831). This pupil of Haydn was enormously popular, being termed a genius during his lifetime, and was viewed by Mozart as Haydn's natural heir. It is well known that he was sought and engaged to conduct Cramer's Professional Concert series in London during the 1791-2 season, in direct competition with the Salomon / Haydn series. The work reviewed here comes from this period of undoubted compositional maturity, and is characterised by harmonic, structural and melodic freshness and ingenuity. It is one of forty-one symphonies penned by Pleyel, dating from the late 1770s until the early years of the 19th century.

To date, Edition HH has published two Pleyel symphonies as part of the @HAYDN series, the other being a slightly earlier work in C major (Benton 121). Both have been edited by Anton Gabmayer, and the quality of this piece and the high standard of editing make them very welcome, particularly since the next most recent publication of this particular work dates from nearly thirty years ago. Haydn's influence, and his close proximity, are evident throughout this symphony, composed in 1791. It is scored for flute, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings (in a rare lapse, the publisher appears to have omitted the bassoon and timpani, which appear throughout the score, from the catalogue and title-page descriptions).

There are four movements, the first consisting of a Maestoso D minor Introduction, reminiscent of Don Giovanni, followed by a very brisk duple metre movement in D major, in sonata form, displaying typical Sturm und Drang features. Next is an Adagio in a minor key, with muted strings; Pleyel here makes a direct reference to Haydn's symphony no.70 in D. This is followed by a substantial and highly inventive Minuet and Trio, featuring wind solos, with no apparent need for a da capo repeat of the Minuet. The Finale is a thrilling major-minor-major rondo, which employs the theme from the last movement of Haydn's symphony no.77 in B flat: it demonstrates a mastery of form, texture and orchestration.

Striking dynamic and textural contrasts are evident throughout the symphony, which is characterised by melodic invention, wit and a deft lightness of touch. Given the inventiveness of the development section of the first movement (surely the test of any composer's mettle) and the motivic cohesion of the movement as a whole, Gabmayer appears justified in comparing Pleyel's symphony not only with those of Haydn but also those of Beethoven, from the following period. For instance, the editor notes an almost omnipresent three-note motif in Pleyel's piece.

The edition is typically clear and uncluttered. It comes complete with a portrait of Pleyel, an illuminating Preface (in German, with an English translation) and clear and concise Textual Notes, which refer to the earliest extant source, André's 1792 edition. Modern editorial conventions have been followed, with additions for consistency set in parenthesis, or indicated with dashed lines; there is clear differentiation between dots and wedges for the purposes of articulation. A paragraph could have been added to the Preface, suggesting approaches to the performance of these and other markings, such as ornaments, and the frequent appearance of chords in the string parts, and perhaps tempo. It would also be useful to have some information on the availability of parts.

The 1997 recording of this piece by the London Mozart Players on Chandos (CHAN9525, which is also available on Naxos Music Library and as an MP3 download on Amazon) presents a strong case for the need to reinstate this and similar pieces by Pleyel in the regular concert repertoire. This new performing edition by Edition HH adds further weight to the argument.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.

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