Despite his popularity during his lifetime on the Parisian musical scene and abroad, the name and works of Hungarian composer László Lajtha are now largely neglected. He had close ties to Béla Bartók and was a contemporary of Zoltán Kodály. Like Bartók, Lajtha had a deep interest in the folk music of his native Hungary. Lajtha, however, was more interested in the instrumental rather than vocal folk music. This influence permeates his string quartets, as does the contrapuntal work of Bach and the formal structure of the Classical string quartet.
This Hungaraton Classics album, performed by the Auer String Quartet, is the first volume in a project to record all 10 of Lajtha's string quartets. The First Quartet was disregarded by Lajtha and never published during his lifetime. The Third Quartet, however, was a tremendous stepping stone toward his international fame. The performances given here by the Auer Quartet, however, do little to bolster the esteem of Lajtha's music. Despite the intrinsic importance of rhythm in Hungarian music -- especially when influenced by the folk traditions of that country -- rhythm on this disc is sometimes approximate and often softened around the edges. The real downfall of this particular album, though, is intonation. The two violins struggle mightily to play in tune, which becomes more and more of a losing battle as they go higher in their instrument's range. When playing lower in their tessitura, listeners are able to enjoy Lajtha, but as soon as the poor intonation sneaks back in, the entire experience is ruined.