Gloria COATES (b.1938)
String Quartet No. 9 (2007) [25:45]
Sonata for Solo Violin (2000) [13:08]
Lyric Suite for Piano Trio, Split the Lark and you’ll find the Music (1996) [19:03]
Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin), Mihailo Trandafilovski (violin), Morgan Goff (viola), Neil Heyde (cello)); Roderick Chadwick (piano)
rec. Saint Peter Art Centre, Cologne, Germany, 13 June 2008; Duke’s Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London 29 March 2009. DDD
NAXOS 8.559666 [58:51]

Gloria Coates is a Wisconsin composer who moved to Munich forty years ago. Her music had previously been unknown to me. Her atonal style is said to be ‘characterized by extremely strict, even rigid technical procedures (canonic structures), which are often worked out with unusual musical materials (glissandi)’. In my listening I do not feel the strength of a rigid or strict compositional framework. The mood of the first two pieces is monotonously heavy whilst the piano and cello in the last piece considerably brighten the overall lyrical tone.

The irregular harmonics of the String Quartet No. 9 – her most recent - are difficult to interpret and one has to believe that there is some experimentation of string sounds being exposed. A melancholic and sombre opening to the first movement is particularly dark and seems indicative of tortured souls. There’s a purposeful crescendo with top violin harmonic tremors representing interesting chirpy birdsong effects. The inclusion of long glides of rising notes against contrasting, howling falls without any over-hanging melodic line suggests a lack of purpose. The nullification of rhythm in places does not aid the listener’s security. In a later movement, a repetitious slurring bagpipe drone underlies pizzicato phrases and moves towards a heightened confusion of the mind. Unclean attack on the pizzicato and using string instruments to provide percussive effects of sound-box knocking comes across as a novelty rather than helping to complement the string playing.

The Sonata for Violin is a brighter piece but we have a similar framework of arco punctuated by pizzicato phrasing. The playing is secure and energetic and is deliberately repetitious. The first two pieces have a similar legato feel. For the Lyric Suite, the play on words in the title is baffling and relates to one particular movement. For this piece a piano is introduced to good effect. The lyrical elements of the last movement are the warmest on the disc and are sensitively carried by the cello line. The movements of the suite are entitled: I. Bells in Steeples; II. An Amethyst Remembrance; III. Split the Lark - and you'll find the Music; IV. The Heart Within; V. Noon - is the Hinge of Day; VI. A wind with fingers and VII. Evening - the Tissue Door

The performance by these musicians is very good and the recordings take place in a wide and airy acoustic. The booklet notes by Kyle Gann are more than adequate and are in German also.

Raymond J Walker

The mood of the first two pieces is monotonously heavy whilst the piano and cello in the last piece considerably brighten the overall lyrical tone.