GLORIA COATES (b.1938): Symphony No. 10 “Drones of Druids on Celtic Ruins” (CalArts Orchestra; Susan Allen), Piano Quintet (Kreutzer Quartet, Roderick Chadwick [piano]).
Catalogue Number: 06T058
Description: Coates has her own unique, instantly recognizable sound-world, which she has employed consistently, unrepentantly and effectively for decades. Her music progresses slowly, if at all, with predominantly long note values and deceptively limited pitch material, which as often as not resembles tonal harmony. But not really, because with an exquisite sense of the aural illusions created by overtones and microtones, her textures and timbres are clotted magma-flows of dense micro-intervals that create images of beautiful, if forbidding, landscapes. The 2013 Quintet draws its movement titles from the vivid, surreal imagery of Emily Dickinson. Pairs of instruments in the quartet are tuned a quarter-tone apart, and this combined with slow gliding chords lends a strange alien quality to even the simplest interaction between the instruments, the conventionally tuned piano being made to sound the strangest of all. The result is a severe, hieratic, ritualistic æsthetic, quite unlike any other music. The 1989 Symphony is an even more extreme case. Here there is almost no 'musical' material at all, or so it might appear, though what there is is precisely notated and gauged for maximum impact. The music evokes an even more ancient and incomprehensible world of cruel ritual, consisting entirely of blaring, snarling, baying brass and roaring percussion. The central movement, "The Glory of Decay" (the title again borrowed from Dickinson) resembles nothing so much as being trapped in a barrel in the middle of a hail-lashed thunderstorm (try it; you might like it).