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Gloria COATES (b 1938)
String Quartet No. 2 (1972)
String Quartet No. 3 (1975)
String Quartet No. 4 (1976)
String Quartet No. 7 Angels (2000)
String Quartet No. 8 (2001-2002)
Kreutzer Quartet
Philip Adams (organ) in String Quartet No. 7
Michael Finnissy (conductor) in String Quartet No. 7
Rec. at the Church of St John’s, Loughton, Essex, Church of St Mary de Haura, New Shoreham, West Sussex 2000 (Nos. 2-4) and 2003 (Nos. 7 and 8)
String Quartets Volume 2
NAXOS 8.559152 [64.37]


This is the second volume in Naxos’s Gloria Coates Quartet series [Vol 1] and once again the frighteningly accomplished Kreutzer Quartet do the honours. Suffused in tone clusters and constant glissandi and often bewildering sonorities these are works, as are her Symphonies, that will enthral or repel. If one takes the works in the order in which they’re presented one starts with the Seventh, subtitled Angels and written for the apparently unique combination of string quartet and organ. The organ part is indeed eerie in the extreme and the tone clusters and embedded hymnal quotations add an Ivesian slant to the texture – though obviously the language as such is uncompromisingly contemporary. One senses in the music a huge organism in inexorable motion and from 8.30 something cataclysmic happens leading to the remarkable sounds, almost, of engines whirring. This piece was first performed a few weeks after the September 11th attacks and it has something of a threnody about it, though too abstract for such simplistic nomenclature.

The Second Quartet lasts a bare six or so minutes. There are constant glissandi here for the lower strings sounding for all the world like the constant creaking open and shut of a badly oiled door. Amidst the tumult a childhood composition of Coates’s slowly appears, a moment of innocence and radiance, surrounded by stern unison and frantic, well, slither. No. 8 (2001-2002) is in three short movements and written in memory of the victims of the September 11th. The first movement is a meditative and dynamically shifting canon, the second ("In falling timbers buried") seething with glissandi and the third is called Prayer. The Fourth Quartet exploits tremolandi and frantic drone writing, alluding to folk elements and in the final movement approaches, after pungent and quite motoric drive, a degree at least of lyricism. The Third Quartet of 1975 evinces that omnipresent Coates sound world of ostinati and obsessive glissandi. The first movement is crepuscular in part with a – descriptive phrases like this can be laughable but this one isn’t – police siren motif and is full of insinuating and cumulatively tense music, laced with pizzicati and wailing. The finale is abrasive and coarse with – critical colours hammered to the mast for once – unpleasant skittering mosquito music.

I know that Coates’ idiosyncratic sound world will appeal to many; others will find it forbidding. I certainly admire the performances and the ambition and it’s perhaps a tribute to Coates’ single-minded concentration and sense of artistic purpose that I found so much of it so unattractive.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Michael Cookson



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