The coming year holds a big anniversary for the Kodály Quartet, which will be celebrating 50 years of extensive concert activity all over Europe as ambassadors of Hungarian quartet culture. Despite various line-up changes, some as recent as this year, the quartet's experience and expertise shone through each work in this evening's performance from Webern to its eponymous composer Zoltán Kodály to Beethoven, beginning with Joseph Haydn's "Sunrise" Quartet.

Kodály Quartet © Luca Kende
Kodály Quartet
© Luca Kende

Hearing how the first violin's theme rose and soared over the glimmer of the other voices with a light and sweet tone, seemed to inevitably evoke that calm morning atmosphere in which the first birds are just about to stir to rouse the rest of the world. It was a moment of beauty that quickly developed into surprisingly dense, full-bodied tutti passages. Its lightness echoed in the second movement's opening notes: their onsets barely audible, it seemed that it was not a group of musicians artfully producing them, but one single, curious creature breathing chords. With palpable joy of playing the musicians waltzed on their chairs in the Menuetto and displayed formidable craftsmanship and ensemble, especially in the fourth movement fugue, whose lines ran through all voices virtually seamlessly.

Where the acoustics of the Pump Rooms had brought out a strong tutti before, Kodály's Second String Quartet didn't fare quite as well. Many lines in the compact Allegro lacked transparency, strong passages were swamped, but not so the folkloristic elements and enchanting modal lines. Here the musicians created a mysterious, yearning tension that became even more surreal in its flageolet return.

While Kodály's Intermezzo also suffered from a muddied sound, Anton Webern's wonderful Langsamer Satz seemed immune to acoustic blurring. The initial, big crescendo was flawed from imprecise intonation on it's very top note didn't seem to bode well, but this was quickly forgotten when Attila Falvay's violin once more rose with its characteristic lightness and its floating yet grounded sound. The musicians so vividly evoked the summer trip that inspired the piece that I (not quite correctly, looking at Webern's notes) was immediately lost in a night-blue scene of Chagall or van Gogh. The calming water of its lake reflect the willows on the banks; white flecks of blossom leaves from a near-by cherry tree blow lazily past in gentle swirls. A couple, lovers, wanders along the reeds, engulfed by – and lost in – one another; they sit down underneath a low-hanging willow branch to the sound of a moored little boat being softly rocked by the waters.

It was a performance by musicians that, despite a very recent addition to the ensemble, know and trust each other blindly, who can throw a musical ball and create flowing, smooth cues and transitions by as much as blinking into the right direction. This was visible not only in the following Beethoven in a more structural transparency and a lighter sonic texture that worked well with the venue's acoustics, but also, and particularly so, in the encore, the Finale of Haydn's Op.54 no.1. The two violin players swapped seats, and Ferenc Bangó led strongly with his meatier tone, a little warmer, rounder and heavier than Falvay's. It appeared that some kind of invisible tension and restriction had fallen from the musicians. Now the music flowed as freely and joyously as I wished it had done before and made for a heart-warming end of yet another enjoyable evening at Leamington Music.

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