This CD has previously been reviewed on MusicWeb International
To their great credit, Naxos have already published all eight
of Gloria Coates's previous string quartets, on two discs, reviewed
Previous reviewers have highlighted the challenges to the unsuspecting
listener of Coates's music, and it is fair to say that it has
not suddenly metamorphosed into anything like a diatonic idiom
for this release. In other words, anyone looking for 'great
tunes', 'easy listening' or 'dinner party music' should evacuate
But for those interested in powerful, original experimentation
in music - not just sound - that, for all its initial
outlandishness, still looks back to Beethoven, Bach and indeed
beyond, the works of Gloria Coates are indispensable. As Kreutzer
violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved says in his note on Coates's
music: "Once the floodgates are open, its extraordinary
beauty is irresistible."
Many will doubtless take a lot of convincing, and much time
and concentration are required to fully appreciate the complexity,
intensity and profundity of Coates's music. But this disc is
perhaps one of the best places to start, with both the Sonata
for Solo Violin and the Lyric Suite among Coates's most approachable
The intrepid new listener should begin not with the String Quartet,
but with the Sonata for Solo Violin, in which the presence of
Johann Sebastian Bach, whom Coates has previously cited as her
greatest influence, is readily discernible, particularly in
the first and third movements. Despite a few unusual sound effects,
this is attractive, lyrical writing.
The seven-movement Lyric Suite for piano trio is another fairly
accessible work, at least as far as that can be said of Coates's
music at all. There is not much here that, say, Charles Ives,
or certainly Henry Cowell, would not recognise - right down
to the idea of asking the pianist to play both the outside and
inside of the piano!
There are other peculiar sound effects, including slightly out-of-tune
strings giving both a 'warped LP' effect, and a kind of ghostly,
out-of-synch echo feel to some of the movements. The piano often
plays very simple tonic triads, and indeed the music is slow-paced
and uncluttered, momentarily reminiscent of atmospheric minimalism
for an arthouse film. Despite the continual dissonance, the
overall effect is strikingly memorable and, yes, lyrical. The
work's subtitle, 'Split the Lark - and You’ll Find the Music”,
some may recognise as the title of a poem by Emily Dickinson,
and each of the seven two- to four-minute sections is named
after a phrase from the poem.
The String Quartet no.9, in its world première recording,
is at another remove - more likely to recall Penderecki's string
music than anything American. It is altogether more arcane,
with further unusual instrumental effects, including tappings
and rapid high-pitched pizzicati and tremolos, although the
opening bars and at least some of the subsequent material and
structure would be recognisable to Shostakovich.
The first violin and viola have been flattened by a quarter
of a tone, creating a spectral effect of ever-present foreboding.
Almost throughout there is a simple, repeated folk-like melody,
but about six minutes in all four instruments begin a trademark,
and breathtaking, glissando spanning several octaves, the violins
descending, the cello and viola ascending - before all reversing
their glissandi until they arrive back where they started, more
than four minutes later! The second movement is much more prickly,
having a less apparent structure and even more dissonance; finding
Bach in this section is a daunting task. Nevertheless, as with
her previous quartets, Coates has created a soundworld of startling,
stimulating intensity of colour and texture.
The Kreutzer Quartet, Roderick Chadwick on piano and Peter Sheppard
Skærved on solo violin, give convincing performances of this
often very challenging music. Sound quality is very good,
especially considering that these are live recordings - there
is no hint of audience intrusion. A minor grievance is that
all three CDs of Coates's string quartets have now been under
an hour in length - perhaps Naxos think it beyond mortal capacity
to listen any longer? Insightful booklets notes on Coates's
music are written as in previous releases by Kyle Gann, who
clearly appreciates the significance of Gloria Coates's music.
As with previous discs of her music, Naxos have included a print-in-miniature
on the front page of another of her expressionist paintings,
providing a glimpse of another aspect of Coates's artistry.
Coates is one of the most important and prolific female composers
of the 20th and 21st centuries. Naxos deserve plaudits for having
the courage to bring her music to the attention of a wider public
- even if it is rather unlikely that our pop-drenched society
will ever hear, let alone understand, her art.