Pleyel: Symphony in C, Ben 128; Symphony in F minor, Ben 138; Symphony in C minor, Ben 121

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COMPOSERS: Pleyel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony in C, Ben 128; Symphony in F minor, Ben 138; Symphony in C minor, Ben 121
PERFORMER: Capella Istropolitana/Uwe Grodd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.554696
As a teenager Ignaz Pleyel was a pupil of Haydn, lodging with him at Eisenstadt from 1772 to 1777. Two decades later Pleyel had become one of Europe’s most popular composers, rivalling Haydn himself; he went on to establish successful businesses in music publishing and instrument manufacture, and to build the Salle Pleyel concert hall in Paris. The latter still survives, but Pleyel’s music is now forgotten, chiefly because it was so extremely derivative of Haydn’s.

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The three symphonies on this Naxos CD certainly sound like pastiches, the C minor and F minor in particular evoking Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period of the late 1760s/early 1770s. But while Pleyel captures some of Haydn’s passion and intensity, he crucially lacks his teacher’s mastery of form. There are exciting passages in the outer movements, a leisurely charm to the slow movements, yet Pleyel is never able to integrate the emotional and structural elements of the music with Haydn’s adroitness. He imitates the style without matching the substance. So, despite spirited performances from Uwe Grodd and Capella Istropolitana, the symphonies here confirm HC Robbins Landon’s criticism that in affecting ‘a pseudo-Haydn style’ Pleyel did ‘great damage to the original by debasing the whole currency’. Graham Lock