Review

Society for Eighteenth-Century Music Newsletter
March 2004

Recent CDs of 18th-Century Music

PLEYEL: Complete cello concertos (STRING CONCERTOS Vol. 1 The Cello Concertos). Péter Szabó vc and conductor, Erdődy Chamber Orchestra, Hungaroton 2 CSs HCD 32067-8

All praise to Hungaroton for their series of Pleyel string concertos. This first volume gives us the five extant cello concertos. A concerto in D (Ben 102) advertised by Breitkopf in 1782-4 is lost. A second volume with the violin concerto (both versions) is promised. Three works here are completely new. The other two have been recorded before: Ben 106 (1797) as a cello concerto or in Pleyel’s alternative versions for flute or clarinet; Ben 104 (c1788) as a clarinet concerto – possibly Gebauer’s adaptation. Ben 105 (1790) was also issued as a viola concerto. Neither version has appeared before. Ben 104, 105, 106, 108 have been edited by Artaria’s Allan Badley but were not apparently used for this recording. Hungaroton have stolen Naxos’s fire with these fine recordings. Ben 101 (c1783) is a real gem, melodically very pleasing, but not the earliest of the concertos. That must be Ben 108, undated in Rita Benton’s catalogue. Despite the insert note’s claim that it is a late work, the musical evidence suggests otherwise. It is surely the earliest Pleyel work ever to appear on disc. An apprentice piece from his period with Haydn, it is rather four-square and not especially attractive, whereas Ben 105 (also for viola) is energetic, powerful and typical Pleyel of the late 1780s: clean, sometimes clichéd themes, chunky orchestral figures that are often dangerously sequence-like, of the sort found in his symphonies. The concertos have singing adagios reminiscent of Mozart in the 1770s. Some say that Pleyel’s talent seriously waned after 1790, but that is not the case with Ben 106 of 1797, which is fresh and strong. Nor is it the view of Matthias Bamert who chose three later Pleyel symphonies (1791-1804) for his splendid disc in the Contemporaries of Mozart series. My sole grouse about this timely pair of finely performed discs concerns the cadenzas, which are overlong and unsuitable. The otherwise treasurable 5-CD Avenira set of Saint Georges concertos and concertantes was similarly vitiated.

Tony Gable

Péter Szabó cellist, conductor, music editor
Péter Szabó's recordings are available on Amazon.com: