Notes and Editorial Reviews
The CD is titled Fellow Traveler: The Complete String Quartet Works of John Adams. That is it: three works. A fourth work for quartet Adams considers a failure, though it was eventually reworked into one of his first big successes, Shaker Loops. The third work on this program, Fellow Traveler, has not been published and is receiving its premiere recording here. John’s Book of Alleged Dances was written for the Kronos Quartet and recorded by them for the Nonesuch label in 1995/96. As the composer states in his online notes, “The music was composed with the personalities of the Kronos players very much in mind. The little pavane, “She’s So Fine,” for example, is expressly made for Joan Jeanrenaud’s sweetly lyrical high cello register, and the
hoe-down, “Dogjam,” honors David Harrington’s bluegrass proclivities.” So it may be a heresy to say that, while they are not wildly dissimilar to the original, in some ways I prefer the Attacca Quartet’s high energy, high spirited, intensely cheeky performances. I like the prominence given the rhythm track that Adams prepared for six of the 10 pieces, I like the order chosen for the dances (the composer dictates no preferred sequence), and I like the precision of the playing that exceeds even that of the mighty Kronos. Not only that, but cellist Andrew Yee plays the harmonics as beautifully as Jeanrenaud does, and Schroeder (and violist Luke Fleming) can fiddle breakdowns with the best of them. Precision is important in the String Quartet as well, but here I find myself as much taken with Amy Schroeder’s soaring line and her purity of tone. Adams wrote the quartet for the St. Lawrence String Quartet after he had heard it perform the Alleged Dances, and that quartet recorded the work for Nonesuch some months after the January 2009 premiere. That CD was one of my 2011 Want List picks, and rehearing it only confirms the impression. The Attacca, at that time a student ensemble at Juilliard, took on the Adams quartet on short notice to present it in a pre-premiere workshop recital after studying the work with the established ensemble. While the Attacca Quartet acknowledges the “invaluable instruction and mentorship,” they take a rather different tack to the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s warmer, essentially lyric approach. Most striking is the focused energy and the greater forward momentum even in the slower, more expressive sections. At just short of 20 minutes, Attacca’s first movement is almost a minute-and-a-half faster than that of the SLSQ; it is rhythmically sharper, and it draws clearer contrasts between the internal divisions of the work.
The previously unrecorded Fellow Traveler was written to honor Peter Sellars, and appropriately enough given their collaborations, draws heavily on the music of Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic, by way of the last movement of Son of Chamber Symphony. The title refers, according to annotator Fleming, who writes as well as he plays viola, to Sellar’s fascination with atomic scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, suspected by the FBI of being a “fellow traveler” or secret communist sympathizer. Like all of the music presented here, it places extreme demands on the players, challenges that the Attacca Quartet appears to meet easily. I’ve mentioned all but second violinist Keiko Tokunaga, which is hardly fair given the unanimity of the ensemble’s virtuosity.
I have never run into Azica Records in Cleveland, Ohio, before. The website suggests it’s a low-budget operation, but their production values say quite the opposite. Engineering is outstanding, and the booklet, while perhaps a bit heavy on chicly faded pop-style photos of the performers, still finds plenty of room for information on the works and performers. All in all, an enormously satisfying debut album.
-- Ronald E. Grames, FANFARE [9/2013]
The only collection of the complete string quartet works of American composer John Adams. Includes liner notes by John Adams.
“Hearing the Attaca Quartet play is to experience a mix of high energy technical skill and musical intelligence. They are an ensemble devoted to their mission with a future of unlimited potential.” – John Adams
The internationally acclaimed Attaca Quartet has become one of America’s premier young performing ensembles. Praised by Strad for possessing “maturity beyond its members’ years,” they made their professional debut in 2007 as part of the Artists International Winners Series in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.
“Fellow Traveler” [is] an exhilarating new CD devoted to the complete string quartet works of John Adams...the [Attacca Quartet's] playing is exuberant, funky and exactingly nuanced...[A] vivacious, compelling set. -- Steve Smith, New York Times [3/29/2013] Read less
Works on This Recording
John's Book of Alleged Dances: Pavane "She's So Fine" by John Adams
Length: 32 Minutes 1 Secs.
String Quartet by John Adams
Period: 21st Century
Written: 2008; USA
Length: 19 Minutes 55 Secs.
Fellow Traveler, for string quartet by John Adams
Length: 5 Minutes 11 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
A fresh take November 12, 2013
By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews
"The Attacca Quartet is a relatively new quartet, which is significant. Because they bring a youthful attitude and energy to Adam's music -- and the works benefit greatly from it. <br />
"John's Book of Alleged Dances" is a wonderful collection of made-up dances. And its a set that should be played with a sense of fun. How can you take movements named "Dogjam" or "Alligator Escalator" otherwise? Yet this is demanding music that only works when played with precision and energy. The Attica pulls it all together, and delivers a winning performance. I won't say this is the definitive performance, but it's pretty darned close. <br />
Also included is Adams' 2008 String Quartet, and the title select, "Fellow Traveler." The latter is a birthday present to Adams' opera collaborator Peter Sellers, and receives its world premier with this release. Although a short work, its unaffected nature and spontaneity makes it an ideal encore piece -- a function it sort of serves in this release."
Difficult music to perform, but not quite my cup June 10, 2013
By Warren Harris See All My Reviews
"This recording is made up of 3 string quartet works by contemporary composer John Adams. I must confess that I have never really been a fan of Adams symphonic works, but thought I would give this a fair shake. Unfortunately, I heard little to change my opinion of his work. Perhaps the driving element in all of Adams works is rhythm. And the first set of 10 short pieces certainly fits that description. The most approachable of the 10 for me is the 9th piece, Habanera. This has melodic elements that I felt comfortable with not the case with the other short pieces. The next work, String Quartet Part 1 and Part 2, is rhythmic but again there is no melody that stands out, nor any thematic material that I felt I could latch onto. The final piece on the recording, the title track, is very approachable and has a driven melodic theme throughout that anyone in todays busy world should definitely be able to relate to, almost as if it is a soundtrack for the busyness of the day-to-day working environment. All of that being said, the music is very difficult to play and the Attacca Quartet is extremely precise and is obviously working very hard to do these works justice. I would very much like to hear them perform pieces from not-so-contemporary composers, as I have a feeling that this quartet would do some amazing Bartok. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that this composer is just not for me. However, those listeners that enjoy his work will likely be captivated by the quality of the performance and music making herein. But if you are not an Adams fan, then stay away."