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Friday, August 24, 2018

Gloria Coates, Piano Quintet, Symphony No. 10

The living US composer Gloria Coates is new to me with today's release. I do note that at the back of the CD booklet several other Naxos CDs are shown covering more of her symphonic and chamber works. I somehow missed them. Never too late of course. So today we have a disk that programs for us her Piano Quintet and her Symphony No. 10 "Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins" (Naxos 8.559848).

After listening a number of times I find her music original and captivating. Based on the two works presented on the program here long tones are in part a distinctive feature of the music. Not exactly like a Morton Feldman work especially in that there is not-so-much than brown-study quietude that Feldman can do so well. The music can be dramatic and engaged more actively than passively meditative, and there is a full range of dynamics generally speaking.

The Piano Quintet is a four movement, 22 minute exploration of a New Music landscape that does not give us much in the way of rapid bursts of noting so much as it unfolds steadily and articulately in a sort of smoky, misty terrain that evokes and yet nonetheless stays in the foreground as inexorably itself more than a pointing other. Half of the string ensemble is tuned a quarter tone higher than the other so that the landscapes shimmer with unstable drones and slow figuration that is in expressive relief yet is not especially representative as much as abstract. It is good listening.

The Symphony No. 10 evokes  the mystery and long-gone silence of a Druidic-Celtic ruin and the subtle echoes of ancient lifeways. Long-tones sprawl outwards and drum rolls perhaps connote loss and longing, and/or maybe a passage of time. Alternately they shape an aural pallet that can be taken in strictly as sound in motion, as a poetry of sound.  Growing up as a snare drummer to me a long drum roll  has very specific connotations not intended in this music. I unfortunately go back to high school band, where a long drum roll invariably brought on a native suburbian reading of the Star Spangled Banner. This has nothing to do with the music because there is no need to hear that connotation but alas I cannot help it myself.  This is mysterious fare and it will get you inside of itself rather quickly. It illustrates readily and aesthetically that nobody in today's music sounds quite like this. Gloria Coates occupies her own special musical space. And you should experience it for yourself I think.

The performances are in the very capable hands of the Kreutzer Quartet and pianist Roderick Chadwick for the Quintet, and the CalArts Orchestra under Susan Allen for the Symphony.

Performances are first-rate. The music takes you to a new place. The Naxos price is an added enticement so why wait?

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