Opus Kura revives the heralded Lener Quartet recordings of Mozart, Haydn, and Dvorak.

Lener Quartet – HAYDN: String Quartet No. 17 in F Major, Op. 3, No. 5; MENDELSSOHN: Canzonetta from String Quartet, Op. 12; MOZART: Oboe Quartet in F Major, K. 370; DVORAK: Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81 – Leon Goossens, oboe/ Olga Loeser-Lebert, piano/ Lener String Quartet – Opus Kura 2114, 67:16 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The Lener Quartet (estab. 1918) rose out of the ranks of the Budapest Opera Orchestra after the throes of WW I. Pupils of Jeno Hubay constituted most of the ensemble, along with one cello student of David Popper: Jeno Lener and Jozef Smilovits, violins; Sandor Roth, viola; and Imre Hartmann, cello. The Lener were the first to record the entire cycle of Beethoven quartets. Their heavy reliance on vibrato and portamento produced a symphonic sound and emotional tenor some found distracting when applied to already sentimental music, such as that by Borodin and Tchaikovsky. Columbia Records signed the ensemble, which maintained a strong recording career 1922-1939.

Many of the finer British instrumentalists performed with the Lener Quartet: to wit, the 1933 version of Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, in which famed Leon Goossens (1898-1988) joins the group, for a thoroughly breezy, idiomatic reading, especially in the last movement. The flexibility of rhythm and precision of articulation make the rendition required listening for anyone interested in great ensemble. The Mendelssohn Canzonetta (1935) opens the disc, a sweet and jaunty excursion which has our wishing the entire work were available to us. The Haydn F Major (1928) rarely appears with its lovely Andante (Serenade) in full context. The polish it receives here adds a degree of old-world charm that contemporary performers often lack.

The major work on the program, Dvorak’s A Major Piano Quintet with German pianist Olga Loeser-Lebert (rec. 1930) had a previous CD incarnation on the defunct Rockport label in 2008. Typically, the Opus Kura restoration provides us a brighter, cleaner sound. The first movement moves gracefull,y if occasionally with those swoons portamento phrasing imposes. Cellist Hartmann makes his presence known in those generous gestures Dvorak allots him. We already savored Jeno Lener’s suave tone in the Mozart; and here, in tandem with the keyboard and pulsating players, Lener’s line sails majestically, especially in the first movement coda. The marvelous Dumka permits violist Sandor Roth his day in the sun. With the acceleration of the tempo, the clouds disperse to mix some lovely colors, distant only because of the antiquity of the early electric recording process. The ethereal, quicksilver Scherzo: Furiant first scampers then takes the viola cue for a dreamscape Trio rarely encountered, even in Schubert. The Allegro finale allows pianist Loeser-Lebert her moments of bravura, especially when she responds to a flowing line from violinist Lener. The rich mix, given the limits of 1930 recording technology, has not suffered irreparably, and we can well appreciate of this fine Hungarian ensemble, which, with the Budapest Quartet and Busch Quartet, embodied the era’s highest principles.

—Gary Lemco