Fellow Traveler: Complete String Quartet Works of John Adams, Attacca Quartet
(released on March 26, 2013)
Azica ACD-71280 | 65'
Beethoven, String Quartets, op. 18/2+3, Quatuor Mosaïques
These four musicians are suited to the Adams style, playing with a bristling energy, often sharp with jabbed elbows but sometimes short on reserve and subtlety. They began with seven of the nine movements, slightly reordered, from John's Book of Alleged Dances, a gutsy piece from 1994. Some of these pieces are synchronized with prerecorded tracks of music for prepared piano, which makes for an unsettling effect at times, a sort of modernist metronome that steals away the flexibility otherwise available to the performers. That seems to be part of what Adams was after, a tribute to the mechanization of music at the hands of John Cage, the piano's clicks and rattles like a "pygmy gamelan," as the composer once put it. In Alligator escalator the strings drew out scratchy tones near their bridges, with the many syncopated rhythms jarring and dance-like. The hoedown of Dogjam seemed to get a little disjointed from the recording, eventually righting itself, while the high cello passages in Pavane: She's So Fine were precariously sketchy. The compelling rhythm -- the rock anthem of Toot Nipple, and the bluesy roll of Judah to Ocean -- is impossible not to like.
The more classically oriented String Quartet, from 2008, is one of Adams's most skilful accomplishments (see my review of the recording by the St. Lawrence Quartet). The Attaccas gave each of the long first movement's contrasting sections its own zing -- singing melodies, pinging notes over repeating motifs (reminiscent of Adams's piano piece Phrygian Gates), a buzzing scherzo, a floating pianissimo passage, endless drive, glassy and serene slow bits, the delightful conclusion with mutes on, some notes glinting out of the murk. The second movement, a cranked-up wild ride, was right in the group's wheelhouse, and they gave it all the zip they could muster.
Robert Battey, Attacca Quartet delivers first concert in John Adams series at Library of Congress (Washington Post, May 24)
The John Adams residency at the Library of Congress continues through Saturday, with performances at the Library and at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, all free.