String Quartets: in E♭,
Pleyel Qrt Cologne (period instruments)
CPO 777770 (73:09)
Gyrowetz’s charm as a composer, his ability to utilize the models of his much admired Haydn and reproduce his varied and genial tone, is never here in doubt. These three string quartets from the 1790s demonstrate not merely a willingness to deploy the same complex tension-release language that the older composer developed, but a similar interest in achieving diversity through a select application of counterpoint, folk materials, abrupt shifts of textural density and movement, and playfully misleading tonal direction. Gyrowetz occasionally had his manuscripts ascribed to Haydn by unscrupulous publishers, and it’s easy to understand why; though the much older composer demonstrates a stronger grasp of structure. These witty, inventive quartets deserve more investigation. Though I’m disinclined to think the Pleyel Quartet of Cologne should be involved in such a project.
Jerry Dubins wrote in a review of their previous recording of three works by the Quartet’s namesake, “The sound they make often turns astringent, desiccated, and raspy. That they play in tune is a saving grace, but to paraphrase something I believe Itzhak Perlman once said, it’s sad to think that an entire generation has now grown up having been led to believe that this is how string instruments are supposed to sound. For personal reasons then, a less than enthusiastic endorsement.” I’ll add to the mix both poorly nuanced phrasing, and a lack of accenting that, combined with a predisposition for constant balance between the parts, makes for bland, textural sameness throughout. I’m also not sure why the Pleyels insist on playing completely without any vibrato. The quartets on this release all date from roughly 50 years after that extremely well regarded teacher, Leopold Mozart, wrote in his famous violin method of the vibrato as “an adornment which arises from Nature herself,” to be imitated on the instrument “by a small movement” utilizing “the whole hand.” If it was standard enough to be recommended as an occasional but important expressive coloration device by him, in a celebrated manual that went through several editions in Mozart’s lifetime (along with various translations), why isn’t this authentic practice good enough for a string ensemble specializing in music of the late 18th century?
Finally, a word about the essay accompanying this release. It is lengthy, as is CPO’s laudable custom, but much of it is a simple recounting of history. Only one paragraph touches upon the musical content of Gyrowetz’s quartets in general, much less in specific detail. And every statement in that paragraph is demonstrably incorrect.
Take a pass. Gyrowetz deserves to be served better.