Gloria Coates (b. 1938) is known, not unfairly, as "the glissando composer." As Kyle Gann says in the liner notes, "Coates is the master of the specifically notated glissando." Born in Wisconsin, she has lived for many years in Germany. Coates has written a large body of unconventional symphonies and string quartets. Here we have String Quartets No. 1, 5 and 6, written in 1966, 1988 and 1999, performed spectacularly by the Kreutzer Quartet.
String Quartet No. 1 (Protestation Quartet) from 1966 is less than six minutes long. It is a a striking piece, based on a mirror canon, which signals what is to come...
String Quartet No. 5 is 31 minutes long, in three movements: Through Time, Through Space, and In the Fifth Dimension. Here we have Coates's soundworld realized, with slow-moving glissandos and microtonal dissonance that remind me of Feldman crossed with Xenakis. My problem with the 5th Quartet is the final movement. The Fifth Dimension is apparently an ocean of some sort, and we travel across it riding up and down its swells, a sine-wave shaped glissando that persists for the entire 9-minute duration, trying my patience.
String Quartet No. 6 (22'13) is the best work here, again in three movements: Still, Meditation, and Evanescence. The Kreutzers sound magnificent, and this piece certainly recommends Coates as a distinctive voice with a vision and something to say. The slow waves of sound are anchored and given shape by underlying symmetries such as canons and palindromes.
The recording is from St. John's Church in Loughton, Essex, U.K., on September 14th and 15th, 2000. The cover painting is by the composer.
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