Anderson Quartet reaches out

Special to The Times

The Cerritos Center’s new, modestly priced Sierra Nights series has a pronounced eclectic bent, nonchalantly mixing classical music, jazz, cabaret and other idioms, hoping to get people to open their ears a bit. And the chamber music representative on the schedule Wednesday night, the Marian Anderson String Quartet -- formerly the ensemble-in-residence at Cal State L.A. now based in Texas -- was well-equipped to reach out to them.

Several chamber groups now talk to their audiences as a matter of course, but this one does that and more, holding an informal, sometimes sassy question-and-answer session just before intermission. The players thoroughly mined the broad humor of Haydn’s notorious “The Joke” Quartet (first violinist Marianne Henry produced gliding effects with undisguised glee), and brought jaunty rhythms and a touch of rambunctiousness to Dvorak’s “American” Quartet.

They trotted out an attractive rarity, a soulfully modal Adagio movement from the Quartet No. 1 by composer-conductor Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson that was intriguing enough to make you wonder why they didn’t play the entire quartet (there was plenty of time available on the short program). They drew an unusually diverse audience, in terms of ethnicity and age, for a chamber music concert.

Their sound is grounded in the bass end, yet overall it is a clear, classically etched blend that suited the acoustics of the Sierra Room Theatre, which seats 330. Joining Henry, second violinist Nicole Cherry and irrepressible violist Diedra Lawrence was a fine new cellist, Prudence McDaniel, who produced an especially rich rendering of the tune from the second movement of the Dvorak.