Music review: Quartets At Sunset 2 & 3

Quartets At Sunset 2& 3
Attacca Quartet
Collins St Baptist Church
Melbourne Festival
October 15,16

Once again promoting the gospel according to John Adams, the Attacca Quartet made his compendium John's Book of Alleged Dances the bookends of Tuesday's recital in this series, the American composer's substantial construct framing another rarely heard Haydn work.

The Attacca Quartet from New York.
The Attacca Quartet from New York. 

With minimal fuss, the performers worked through the satirical dances, which can be shaped in any format convenient for the players and which require a prerecorded CD track of prepared piano sounds to underpin six of the 10 sections.

The book comes across as a generally light-hearted jeu d'esprit, even if some of the humour is heavy-handed or stays around too long after making its point like the Pavane: She's So Fine and the hyper-active Standchen.

But the interpolated Haydn Quartet in G from the Op. 17 set was treated just as energetically, distinguished by a lusty scherzo and an intense reading of the aria-with-recitative slow movement.

The following night's Haydn, Op. 55 in F minor nicknamed The Razor, began well with a firm treatment of its finely sprung sequence of variations, but the lower strings - viola Luke Fleming and cello Andrew Yee - developed too much heft in the work's second half, Fleming's melody line in the Minuet over-anxious to make its mark.

As prefatory material, the Attaccas performed Arvo Part's modest, popular Fratres with firm dedication in its opening non-vibrato pages; then Britten's early and improbably unattractive Three Divertimenti, which needed a more urbane, lighter approach than they experienced here.