Fiery late Beethoven from this crack Hungarian ensemble

Léner Quartet: Beethoven

The Strad Issue: April 2024

Description: Fiery late Beethoven from this crack Hungarian ensemble

Musicians: Léner Quartet

Works: Beethoven: String Quartets: in C sharp minor op.131, in A minor op.132

Catalogue number: BIDDULPH 85042-2

Most ensembles take around ten years to find what I call their fifth voice; but the Léner Quartet achieved it in half that time. Its musicians were Leó Weiner’s first successes as a chamber music coach and in 1924, when these recordings were made, their Beethoven still had freshness as well as six years’ experience.

The most homogeneous group on record, its players came from the Hubay–Popper stable in Budapest. Imre Hartmann was a terrific cellist, Sándor Róth a fine violist, the two violinists Jenő Léner and József Smilovits like peas in a pod. As for their portamento, bring it on, I say!

Op.131, set down over two days in February, with one side remade in August, holds together well: the fugue invites the listener in, the variations maintain the attention and the Adagio quasi un poco andante is very moving, leading to a lively but never brutal finale.

This recording of op.132, made on two November days, is crucial to Aldous Huxley’s novel Point Counter Point – Biddulph reproduces the relevant passage in the booklet.

After the Innigkeit of the opening, the Allegro has terrific impetus, unimpeded by a certain amount of Hungarian ebb and flow; the Scherzo has typical Léner flair and its droning Trio has a lovely quality; the chorales of the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ build great intensity and the interludes have a hopeful spring in their step; the march is just fine; and after the satirical cadenza, the finale brings wondrous rhythm and drive, with an exhilarating dash to the finish.

Yes, the Busch recordings have a sublimity and spirituality that are not quite attained here, but what flair and intensity can do, the Léners do. The acoustic sound breathes a unique atmosphere.