Pieces that make you want to go out and buy a recording to play for your friends are one thing--and rare enough. But new work that makes you want to go out and buy the music to play with your friends is something else again.
Peter Schickele is a master of such musical conviviality. Monday in Caltech's Dabney Lounge, the Armadillo String Quartet gave the second in what promises to be a valuable annual series of Schickele celebrations, with the composer present as both musician and raconteur.
The centerpiece of the generous program was the premiere of Schickele's String Quartet No. 4, "Inter-Era Dance Suite." Seductive tunefulness, sly metrical gamesmanship, unlikely outbreaks of canonic imitation, rambunctious energy and an abiding concern for ear-catching sonority inform all of Schickele's music, whether under his own brand or in his P.D.Q. Bach discoveries; those qualities overflow in this fourth quartet.
Not all of the eight movements are equally inspired; the Sarabande in particular remains barely an accompaniment sketch without melody. But the other slow movements--a warm, Brahmsian Waltz and a poignant little Fox Trot--glow, and there is plenty of driving rhythmic pizazz to savor.
Violinists Barry Socher and Steven Scharf, violist Raymond Tischer and cellist Armen Ksajikian played it with affection and care, bold or caressive as required. They projected its rhythmic bravado with big, focused sound, while allowing its melodic sincerity full flower.
For instructive comparison as well as its own readily apparent virtues, the enterprising Armadillos prefaced the Quartet with the String Trio that served as Schickele's master's thesis at Juilliard back in 1960.
Despite a gloss of disjunct, pseudo-academicism, the Trio never loses touch with vernacular elements, which come completely to the fore in the frenetic jazz of the third and final movement. Its more sublimated character and astringent sound provided the chief contrast on the program.
There was an additional measure of variety in "Mountain Music I," two bluegrass dazzlers and a nostalgic plaint for cello and piano delivered with panache by Ksajikian and the composer.