If anything tangible can be made of the current-day reputation of Ignaz Pleyel, it is as a manufacturer of pianos. Starting his firm in 1807, more than 200 years later, there are still Pleyel pianos produced; Frédéric Chopin was one pianist who preferred the touch of a Pleyel. Slightly more expert music fanciers will also note that Pleyel was a very important publisher in his time, and that firm likewise continued long after his death, printing more than 4,000 pieces, including significant works of his own mentor, Franz Joseph Haydn. It would take a true specialist, however, to note the elder Pleyel's significance as a composer, which was anything but insubstantial; Pleyel was one of the most popular composers in Europe between Franz Joseph Haydn's peak and the advent of Beethoven. In terms of output, Pleyel matched, and in some cases exceeded, his master -- he composed 121 symphonies to Haydn's 109, and 71 string quartets to Haydn's 77, though more if you count several quartets written with flute as the lead instrument and a single effort with violin, two violas, and cello. The set of three included on Hungaroton's Ignaz Pleyel: 3 String Quartets were published in 1787 as Pleyel's Op. 11 and the last three among a set of 12 dedicated to the newly installed King of Prussia, Frederick Wilhelm II. In the more consciously revolutionary times to follow, the dedication was removed.
Hungary's Quartetto Luigi Tomasini, based at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, executes the three quartets very well on period instruments, though in this music modern instruments would sound about the same, a little brighter perhaps. The quartets are engaging, well made, approachable, and dramatic; however, they are very, very similar to Haydn's work in this vein; even an expert ear would have trouble telling them apart from Haydn. They are formally different, as Pleyel compresses the formal scheme into different components; the three quartets here are in three and two movements rather than four. Pleyel utilizes an especially long first movement, and in the first and third quartets dispenses with the minuet altogether, though these quartets run, like most of Haydn's, about 20 minutes. Listeners attuned to Haydn's familiar essays in the string quartet idiom will find these Pleyel quartets no more, yet no less, interesting than Haydn's typical output in the medium, and these are fine performances indeed.