Leonkoro Quartet. Lakeside, Nottingham. 3 November 2022. 5*****. William Ruff


Leonkoro Quartet

Lakeside, Nottingham

November 3 2022


Review: William Ruff


The dynamic Leonkoro Quartet: a young ensemble with the brightest of futures

Anyone who worries about the future of chamber music should take heart from groups like the Leonkoro Quartet (the name means ‘Lionheart’ in Esperanto!).  They’re young (formed only three years ago) but have already won a rich tally of awards.  They have been praised for their risk-taking and for the way they travel with ease from one distinctive sound-world to another.  Apart from their cellist (of course) they choose to stand to play, moving to the music in both body and spirit, capturing the music’s energy and transmitting it to the audience.  Their very physical approach (especially when it comes to dynamics) means that they don’t just play the music, they seem to sculpt it.

They didn’t waste any time before launching into Thursday night’s Lakeside programme: a smiling, elegant Divertimento by the 15-year-old Mozart, a sort of miniature opera overture, full of hustle, bustle and unexpected twists.  Yes, it was a bit breathless at times (especially the last movement) but it had plenty of style and panache.

Shostakovich’s 3rd String Quartet was written just after World War 2 in 1946 and is an important milestone on the composer’s quartet-writing career.  As so often in his music, movements of widely different character are brought together: high seriousness rubbing shoulders with the light-hearted.  These rapid shifts of gear need careful handling – but this suited the Leonkoro Quartet as they enacted the world-changing events which lie behind the music. 

The Leonkoros made the first movement’s opening theme sound amiable and innocent but the mood soon changed in the troubled second movement and its bitter dissonance, full of foreboding, the extended passage of eerily quiet, clipped chords handled brilliantly. The gripping third movement (a sort of mixture of Scherzo and March) exploded with eruptions of aggressive, violent energy before the heart-rending Passacaglia fourth movement.    The Finale, faster-moving and more confident in tone, brought a calm resolution to music which had travelled so far across a shattered musical landscape in so short a time.

In the concert’s second half the Leonkoro Quartet tackled the first published string quartet of Johannes Brahms although it was certainly not the first he composed.  Nervous about being constantly compared to Beethoven, he was 40 before he dared to publish Op. 51 No 1.  It was worth waiting for: epic in scale, heroic in mood.

The Leonkoros were completely inside this complex music from the outset, capturing the drama of the bold, rising arpeggio at the start of the first movement and its throbbing accompaniment.  They were warmly expressive in the second movement Romanze as well as the intimate Scherzo.  The Finale was full of high-octane energy whilst always mindful of the music’s complex architecture and the way it pulls together strands from earlier in the work.

There was an encore too: one of the 5 Pieces by Erwin Schulhoff.  Like everything else in their programme it demonstrated the Leonkoro Quartet’s ability to move between emotional extremes and deliver performances with depth of understanding, virtuosity and drama.

Leonkoro Quartet

Jonathan Schwarz, violin

Amelie Wallner, violin

Mayu Konoe, viola

Lukas Schwarz, cello

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