Classical music observers say we're living in a golden age of string quartets. It's hard to disagree when you hear the vibrant young players in New York's Attacca Quartet.
They revere the old school, having recently completed a performance cycle of all 68 string quartets by Joseph Haydn, the man who invented the genre. They also hunger for the new, exploring the music of three living composers each year in a project called Recently Added.
One contemporary composer the group continues to champion is John Adams. The head-banging pulsations of "Toot Nipple" (titled after a character in an Annie Proulx story) contrast with the slippery and funky episodes in "Alligator Escalator." Adams has said he imagined such a creature waddling up and down the floors of Macy's department store. The two movements belong to John's Book of Alleged Dances from 1994.
Next to Adams, Haydn sounds positively genteel, but you needn't look far to find the composer's own feisty side. Sunny skies suddenly turn threatening at the turn of a phrase -- a trend in Haydn's time known as Sturm und Drang, or "Storm and Stress" -- when moods can swing wildly with impunity.
Measured by the cello's tick-tock pizzicato, the mood of Michael Ippolito's Smoke Rings is languid, even a little trippy. Inspired by a 14th-century French song about a smoking society, the composer employs long, slow strokes and light bow pressure for a hazy texture. The music heats up dramatically midway through, only to drift back into the smoke.
• Adams: "Toot Nipple"
• Adams: "Alligator Escalator"
• Haydn: "String Quartet in D, Op. 76, No. 5 -- I. Allegretto"
• Ippolito: "Smoke Rings"