ADAMS: John's Book of Alleged Dances (1994). String Quartet (2008). Fellow
A quiet, graceful song for a budding teenager. She's in her room, playingThe piece has both poetry and fun. Adams had created a light work which nevertheless has substance, like Dvorák's Carnival Overture, one of the most difficult things a composer can bring off.
On the other hand, I had difficulty trying to crack Adams's two-movement String Quartet since I first heard it from the St. Lawrence String Quartet. I vaguely sensed that the late Beethoven quartets somehow lurked in the background (particularly because of the peculiar proportions of the work and the occasional interruptions in its flow), but the first movement in particular, twice as long as the second, simply foxed me. I've kept at it, however, and I must credit the Attacca players for making the score more comprehensible to me. I now see the first movement as three in one: something like a sonata-allegro, a scherzo, and a slow movement. That's an immense help and allowed me to determine the thematic arguments. The first movement remains dense, and I'll be at it a long time. At least I have a solid basis on which to stand. The second movement features Adams's pulsing, familiar to those who know his Shaker Loops and Nixon in China. Intricate counterpoint generates cross-rhythmic energy. It's how I imagine the electric jolts in the power lines sing and dance.
Praise to the Attacca Quartet who surpass their predecessors. They seem to take bigger risks in John's Book of Alleged Dances than the Kronos, who sound way too suave in comparison. The Attacca give the dances a bit of street dirt. As I said, they opened up the String Quartet for me. The St. Lawrence in comparison seem like pioneers struggling against the wild. Azica's engineering is superb, giving superb separation among the individual voices so you can more or less follow Adams's mind-blowing counterpoint, but without sounding as though each instrument had its own recording booth. The entire sound is chamber-natural.