LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets - Complete (1926-36) - PABX036

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LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets - Complete (1926-36) - PABX036

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Overview

BEETHOVEN The Complete String Quartets, Nos. 1-16
BEETHOVEN Große Fuge

Studio recordings, 1926-1936

Léner String Quartet:
Jenő Léner (violin I)
Josef Smilovits (violin II)
Sándor Róth (viola)
Imre Hartman (cello)


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This set contains the following albums:

Click below to expand note:
LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 1: The Early Quartets (1926-36) - PACM106

The Léner Quartet were among several groups to arise from the Budapest Opera Orchestra after the Great War. All born in 1894-95, the four players had a particularly uniform style: three were pupils of Jenő Hubay and the cellist was a Carl Popper disciple. Leader Jenő Léner, the prodigy of Hubay’s class, had played in the first violins of the Budapest Philharmonic at 11 (one of two Hungarian quartet players with the same name, he used the Magyar version while Eugen Lehner, violist of the Kolisch Quartet, opted for the German). Second fiddle Josef Smilovits had won the Reményi Prize. Violist Sándor Róth had appeared as a soloist and had already begun to teach at the Academy; he was one of the best quartet violists of his time, with a tone fuller and stronger than that of his Budapest Quartet counterpart. Cellist Imre Hartman, who had won the Popper Prize, anchored the group with firm rhythm and a tone of depth and penetration. Their ensemble was the first success of Leó Weiner as a chamber music coach. In their heyday, their wide vibrato and lavish portamenti did not raise eyebrows; and at a time when the Busch Quartet had not emerged from Germany, their Beethoven, played with immense flair, was greatly admired: they were the first to record the complete cycle.

The revolution of 1918 was their cue to leave the orchestra and retire to the country with a trunkful of scores, to work on repertoire. In 1919 they made their Budapest début and in 1920 gave a Vienna recital attended by prominent musicians including Ravel. He coached them and urged them to play in Paris, which they did the following autumn, causing a sensation. In 1922 they toured Italy and played six times at Wigmore Hall, London. Their pianist was Florence-based Olga Loeser-Lebert, a pupil of Max Pauer, grand-daughter of composer and teacher Sigmund Lebert and widow of art critic Charles Loeser. She hosted their rehearsal stints at her lavish villa.

London became a home from home for the Léners: they were quickly snapped up by the Columbia Graphophone Company Limited, who had developed a new shellac compound, marketing their products as ‘Columbia New Process Records – the ONLY Records without Scratch’. From 13 November 1922 they were fixtures in the Columbia studios, although some early electrics were made at Wigmore Hall. The electric Beethoven series was begun in September 1926 and by March 1927 five sets were ready for release, although the artists later rejected some sides, new takes gradually being introduced. Op. 18/1 was totally redone in 1928 and this is the version presented here. The ensemble’s records did so well that in 1935 they were presented with a Gold Disc.

Forays to North America in 1929-31 were successful artistically but not financially, so the Léners consolidated their European career. They especially liked to present series of recitals illustrating the development of the string quartet. The outbreak of war in 1939 found them touring South America and in 1941 three of them decided to settle in Mexico City. Jenő Léner, however, was set on continuing and, to his comrades’ dismay, abandoned them. By 1942 he was in New York with new colleagues, but this ensemble was plagued by personnel changes. After the war he returned to Europe, insisting on hiring Weiner pupils to keep the style consistent. In 1948 the group visited South America for three months, giving Beethoven cycles in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo. However, Léner’s death from cancer in New York on 4 November brought an end to an illustrious ensemble.

TULLY POTTER

LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 2: The Middle Quartets (1926-32) - PACM109

In the wake of the Great War, two influential chamber ensembles emerged from the ranks of the Budapest Opera Orchestra. The first, the Budapest String Quartet, began with three Hungarians and a Dutchman, and gradually moved to an all-Russian band by the mid-1930s with a radically different sound and approach. The other, the Léner String Quartet, kept its original Hungarian personnel and Romantic-era portamenti for over two decades. During their heyday, they were arguably more successful than the Budapest, having been awarded a gold record in 1935 for a million discs sold, a remarkable achievement in any era for a chamber group. Yet after World War II, they were considered a stylistic anachronism. Their records were no longer collectable, nor were they reissued for decades.

Why should this be? As an article in the All Music Guide put it, “[b]y 1950, the Léner Quartet recordings, mostly made in the 1920s, must have seemed ancient by comparison as the group favored a broad, fat string tone more readily associated with arch-Romantic performance practice. Nonetheless, this is precisely why some of the Léner Quartet recordings are being revived on CD more than 50 years after they were largely regarded as obsolete artifacts belonging to a bygone era.”

During a recording career that extended from 1922 to 1939, the Léner Quartet waxed some 450 sides for English Columbia. Their repertoire on disc was greatly expanded by the label’s observance of the centennial of Beethoven’s death in 1927. Between September and November of 1926, the ensemble recorded twelve of Beethoven’s sixteen string quartets in sessions held in the warm acoustic of Wigmore Hall in London. (What about the other four? Three of them – Opp. 74, 131 and 132 – had only recently been issued in acoustic versions by the Léners, and would be remade electrically in the 1930s. The fourth, Op. 18, No. 5 featured in Volume 1, was only first recorded by the group in 1936, finally completing their cycle.)

Five of the sets were on the market by March of 1927, with the remainder being issued the following month. However, either because Columbia had not arranged for the ensemble to hear the test pressings prior to issue or, as Tully Potter speculates, the group’s touring schedule precluded careful auditioning of the discs, several of the sides in the issued albums had to be re-recorded. In the case of Op. 18, No. 1, the quartet’s objections were wide-ranging enough that an entirely new recording was made two years after the first and issued under the same catalog numbers. This is the one presented in Volume 1.

Shortly after the initial release of Op. 59, No. 1, all but the first two sides were re-recorded, which accounts for the noticeably faster tempo of the reprise of the opening theme at the beginning of Side 3. In 1938, a new version of Op. 59, No. 2 was made, and that one was included an earlier Japanese EMI CD reissue. I have chosen to present here the 1926 recording.

The pitch drop that affected every side of the 1926 recordings has now been fixed, and the best commercially-issued American Columbia copies (Viva-Tonal, Royal Blue and Full-Range pressings) have been employed in the transfers.

Mark Obert-Thorn

LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 3: The Late Quartets (1926-35) - PACM110

This release concludes Pristine’s critically acclaimed (Diapason d’Or, Fanfare annual “Want List”) series of the complete Beethoven string quartets performed by the Léner Quartet.

While the pioneering 78 rpm sets of the Beethoven symphonies and sonatas for piano, violin and cello recorded between the wars by Weingartner, Schnabel, Kreisler and Casals, respectively, have been available periodically or continually over the succeeding decades, this first complete traversal of his string quartets has been “missing in action” for most of the time, reissued complete only in Japan.

Part of the reason seems to have been the change in tastes that occurred during the ten year period (1926-36) it took for the Léners to complete their cycle. Their old-fashioned playing style, marked by the use of portamenti, ample string tone and highly personalized interpretation, seemed antiquated even before the 1930s were over in comparison to groups like the Schneider-led Budapest Quartet. Yet, it is precisely these features which have drawn modern listeners to their recordings in recent years as an antidote to more literal performances.

The bulk of the Léner cycle was recorded in late 1926 and early the following year, when the group set down twelve of the sixteen Beethoven quartets in the ample acoustic of Wigmore Hall in London. Opp. 127, 130 and 135 in the present release date from this period. Op. 127 was, oddly, the only quartet in this series that was not released by American Columbia; it has been transferred here from early laminated British pressings, while the remainder have come from U.S. Viva-Tonal, Royal Blue and Full-Range discs.

As Tully Potter has written, “The Léner legacy is a collector’s dream, as one can accumulate several versions of some 78 rpm sides. In certain cases, individual sides were changed when sets were already in production.” In his English Columbia discography, Ronald Taylor lists two versions of Op. 135 that were issued in the UK: one with take numbers 2-1-3-2-1-2, all recorded in November, 1926; and a second with takes 2-4-5-2-4-2, which incorporates remakes done in March of 1927. The American Columbia copy used here offers a third alternative (with no take number listed for the second side): 2-?-3-1-1-2. It’s likely that the take used for Side 2 came from the 1926 session, as none of the later take numbers show up here. A 1935 remake of Op. 135 was used for the Japanese EMI CD set, but I have chosen to present the earlier version here.

Of the four quartets not taken down during these early electric sessions, one (Op. 18/5) had to wait until 1936 for its first Léner recording, while the remaining three (Op. 74, on Volume 2 of our series, and Opp. 131 and 132 presented here) had only recently been issued in acoustic versions by the group. Their performance of Op. 132, at least in its earlier incarnation, has a literary connection. As Potter notes, it “achieved its niche in the hall of fame by being featured in the final chapter of Aldous Huxley’s 1928 novel Point Counter Point. They players were not named, but the Léner set was the only one available and Huxley’s mention of ‘four Hungarians’ put the matter beyond doubt. The description of the Heiliger Dankgesang and its effect on the character Spandrell, in the last minutes of his life, is a tribute to the intensity of the performance.”

The odd man out, as it were, in this series is the Grosse Fuge, which the Léners recorded only once. Pace Wikipedia, it was not the first recording of the work (the early Budapest Quartet beat them by three years); and like the 1928 remake of Op. 18/1 in our first volume, it was recorded neither in Wigmore Hall nor Abbey Road, but in English Columbia’s Petty France, London studios. The pitch drop that plagued all the original sides from the 1926-27 sessions has here been corrected using the latest computerized restoration software, and Op. 130 has been presented out of order so that it could be coupled with its original finale, the Grosse Fuge, on the same CD.

Mark Obert-Thorn
Click below to expand track listing:
LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 1: The Early Quartets (1926-36) - PACM106

LÉNER STRING QUARTET: BEETHOVEN The Early Quartets, Op. 18, Nos. 1 – 6


CD 1 (67:32)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18, No. 1
1. 1st Mvt. – Allegro con brio (7:28)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio affetuoso ed appassionato (8:39)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Scherzo. Allegro molto – Trio (2:54)
4. 4th Mvt. – Allegro (5:58)
Recorded 3 December 1928 in London
Matrix nos.: WAX 4379-1, 4380-1, 4381-1, 4382-2, 4383-1 & 4384-2
First issued as Columbia L 1842/4


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 18, No. 2
5. 1st Mvt. – Allegro (5:35)
6. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio cantabile – Allegro – Tempo I (5:35)
7. 3rd Mvt. – Scherzo. Allegro – Trio (3:46)
8. 4th Mvt. – Allegro molto, quasi presto (5:15)
Recorded 28 September and 28 October 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 1959-1, 1960-3, 1961-2, 1962-1, 1963-2 & 1964-1
First issued as Columbia L 1909/11


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 18, No. 3
9. 1st Mvt. – Allegro (7:25)
10. 2nd Mvt. – Andante con moto (7:32)
11. 3rd Mvt. – Allegro – Minore – Maggiore (2:43)
12. 4th Mvt. – Presto (4:40)
Recorded 2 December 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2243-2, 2244-1, 2245-1, 2246-2, 2247-1 & 2248-2
First issued as Columbia L 1912/4


CD 2 (70:59)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 4 in C minor, Op. 18, No. 4
1. 1st Mvt. – Allegro ma non tanto (8:20)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Andante scherzoso quasi allegretto (6:53)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio (3:54)
4. 4th Mvt. – Allegro – Prestissimo (3:57)
Recorded 27 & 28 October 1926 in the Wigmore Hall
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2054-2, 2055-1, 2056-2, 2057-2, 2063-1 & 2064-1
First issued as Columbia L 1845/7


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 5 in A major, Op. 18, No. 5
5. 1st Mvt. – Allegro (7:18)
6. 2nd Mvt. – Menuetto – Trio (5:18)
7. 3rd Mvt. – Andante cantabile – Var. I–V – Poco adagio (6:44)
8. 4th Mvt. – Allegro (6:08)
Recorded 9 & 13 July 1936 in Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrix nos.: CAX 7821-1, 7822-1, 7823-1, 7825-1 & 7826-D-1
First issued as Columbia LX 611/3


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 6 in B-flat major, Op. 18, No. 6
9. 1st Mvt. – Allegro con brio (4:35)
10. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio ma non troppo (6:48)
11. 3rd Mvt. – Scherzo. Allegro – Trio (3:22)
12. 4th Mvt. – La malinconia. Adagio – Allegretto quasi allegro – Adagio – Allegretto - Prestissimo (7:40)
Recorded 8 & 21 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2133-1, 2134-1, 2135-1, 2193-1, 2194-2 & 2195-1
First issued as Columbia L 1915/7


Léner String Quartet

Jenő Léner (violin I)
Josef Smilovits (violin II)
Sándor Róth (viola)
Imre Hartman (cello)


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Nathan Brown and Charles Niss for providing source material
Cover picture based on a photo of the Lener Quartet (L-to-R: Smilovits, Hartman, Léner, Róth)

Total duration:  2hr 18: 28    CD1: 67:30      CD2: 70:58   


LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 2: The Middle Quartets (1926-32) - PACM109

LÉNER STRING QUARTET: BEETHOVEN The Middle Quartets, Nos. 7 - 11


CD 1 (76:04)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 7 in F major “Rasumovsky”, Op. 59, No. 1
1. 1st Mvt. – Allegro (10:40)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando (8:02)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Adagio molto e mesto – attaca (10:25)
4. 4th Mvt. – Thème russe. Allegro (7:59)

Recorded 26 October 1926 & 2 March 1927 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2065-3, 2070-2, 2071-4, 2072-3, 2073-5, 2074-4, 2075-4, 2076-3, 2096-4 & 2097-3
First issued as Columbia L 1837/41


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 8 in E minor “Rasumovsky”, Op. 59, No. 2
5. 1st Mvt. – Allegro (7:52)
6. 2nd Mvt. – Molto adagio. Si tratta questo pezzo con molto di sentimento (11:22)
7. 3rd Mvt. – Allegretto – Maggiore (Thème russe) (7:07)
8. 4th Mvt. – Finale. Presto (4:59)

Recorded 5 & 7 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2104-1, 2105-1, 2119-2, 2120-2, 2121-1, 2122-2, 2123-2 & 2124-1
First issued as Columbia L 1856/9


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 9 in C major “Rasumovsky”, Op. 59, No. 3

9. 1st Mvt. – Introduzione. Andante con moto – Allegro vivace (7:37)


CD 2 (76:49)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 9 in C major “Rasumovsky”, Op. 59, No. 3 (concluded)
1. 2nd Mvt. – Andante con moto quasi allegretto (9:40)
2. 3rd Mvt. – Menuetto. Grazioso – Trio (5:09)
3. 4th Mvt. – Allegro molto (6:48)

Recorded 7, 8 & 29 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2125-1, 2126-1, 2127-1, 2128-2, 2129-1, 2130-1, 2131-1, 2132-4
First issued as Columbia L 1860/3


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major “Harp”, Op. 74
4. 1st Mvt. – Poco adagio – Allegro (8:15)
5. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio ma non troppo (10:19)
6. 3rd Mvt. – Presto – Più presto quasi prestissimo – Tempo I – attaca (6:25)
7. 4th Mvt. – Allegretto con variazioni (7:27)

Recorded 10 & 14 March 1932 in Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrix nos.: CAX 6331-2, 6332-1, 6333-1, 6334-2, 6335-2, 6336-1, 6337-1 & 6338-1
First issued as Columbia LX 319/22


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 11 in F minor “Quartetto serioso”, Op. 95
8. 1st Mvt. – Allegro con brio (5:01)
9. 2nd Mvt. – Allegro ma non troppo – attaca (6:21)
10. 3rd Mvt. – Allegro assai vivace ma serioso (4:57)
11. 4th Mvt. – Larghetto espressivo – Allegretto agitato – Allegro (5:24)

Recorded 4 & 5 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2098-1, 2099-1, 2100-3, 2101-2, 2102-2 & 2103-1
First issued as Columbia L 1926/8


Léner String Quartet

Jenő Léner (violin I)
Josef Smilovits (violin II)
Sándor Róth (viola)
Imre Hartman (cello)


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Charles Niss and David Schmutz for providing source material
Cover picture based on a photo of the Lener Quartet (L-to-R: Smilovits, Hartman, Léner, Róth)

Total duration:  2hr 32:53    CD1: 76:04      CD2: 76:49 

LÉNER QUARTET The Beethoven Quartets Vol. 3: The Late Quartets (1926-35) - PACM110

LÉNER QUARTET - BEETHOVEN The Late Quartets


CD 1 (74:25)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 12 in E-flat major, Op. 127
1. 1st Mvt. – Maestoso – Allegro (7:00)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Adagio, ma non troppo e molto cantabile (14:25)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Scherzando. Vivace – Presto (6:52)
4. 4th Mvt. – Allegro – Allegro comodo (6:35)
Recorded 23 & 29 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2204-1, 2205-2, 2206-2, 2207-1, 2208-1, 2209-2, 2217-1, 2218-1, 2219-2 & 2220-1

First issued as Columbia L 1921/5


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 131
5. 1st Mvt. – Adagio, ma non troppo e molto espressivo (6:59)
6. 2nd Mvt. – Allegro molto vivace (3:19)
7. 3rd Mvt. – Allegro moderato (0:47)
8. 4th Mvt. – Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile (13:47)
9. 5th Mvt. – Presto – Molto poco adagio (6:02)
10. 6th Mvt. – Adagio quasi un poco andante (1:46)
11. 7th Mvt. – Allegro (6:54)
Recorded 2 & 3 March 1932 in Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrix nos.: CAX 6317-2, 6318-2, 6319-2, 6320-1, 6321-2, 6322-2, 6323-1, 6324-2, 6325-2 & 6326-2
First issued as Columbia LX 294/8


CD 2 (50:29)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130
1. 1st Mvt. – Adagio ma non troppo – Allegro (9:02)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Presto (1:59)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Andante con moto, ma non troppo (6:23)
4. 4th Mvt. – Alla danza tedesca. Allegro assai (2:43)
5. 5th Mvt. – Cavatina. Adagio molto espressivo (5:43)
6. 6th Mvt. – Finale. Allegro (7:50)
Recorded 3 December 1926 & 27 January 1927 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2255-1, 2256-2, 2257-1, 2258-2, 2259-2, 2260-1, 2261-4, 2401-1, 2402-1 & 2403-1
First issued as Columbia L 1929/33


7. BEETHOVEN Große Fuge in B-flat major, Op. 133 (16:50)
Recorded 19 February 1930 in the Columbia Petty France Studios, London
Matrix nos.: WAX 5392-1, 5393-2, 5394-2 & 5395-2
First issued as Columbia LX 103/4


CD 3 (65:51)

BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132
1. 1st Mvt. – Assai sostenuto – Allegro (9:38)
2. 2nd Mvt. – Allegro ma non tanto (7:53)
3. 3rd Mvt. – Heiliger Dankgesang. Molto adagio (18:05)
4. 4th Mvt. – Alla marcia, assai vivace – Più allegro (2:26)
5. 5th Mvt. – Allegro appassionato – Presto (6:47)
Recorded 13, 14 & 19 March 1935 in Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrix nos.: CAX 7482-1, 7483-1, 7484-1, 7485-4, 7486-1, 7487-1, 7488-2, 7489-1, 7490-1 & 7491-2
First issued as Columbia LX 463/7


BEETHOVEN Quartet No. 16 in F major, Op. 135
6. 1st Mvt. – Allegretto (6:44)
7. 2nd Mvt. – Vivace (3:31)
8. 3rd Mvt. – Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo (5:03)
9. 4th Mvt. – Der schwer gefasste Entschluss. Grave (5:44)
Recorded 29 November 1926 in the Wigmore Hall, London
Matrix nos.: WRAX 2221-2, 2222*, 2223-3, 2224-1, 2225-1 & 2226-2
First issued as Columbia L 1918/20
*No take number shown on the U.S. edition presented here, but probably not Take 4 from the remake session of 3 March 1927, because the remakes of Sides 3 and 5 were not used in this version.


Léner String Quartet

Jenő Léner (violin I)
Josef Smilovits (violin II)
Sándor Róth (viola)
Imre Hartman (cello)


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Robert Cowlin/British Library, Richard Kaplan, Charles Niss and David Schmutz for providing source material
Cover picture based on a photo of the Lener Quartet (L-to-R: Smilovits, Hartman, Léner, Róth)


Total duration:  3hr 10:47    CD1: 74:26      CD2: 50:30      CD3: 65:52