Cette Blanche Agonie, Fonte di Rimini, Indian Sounds (Symphony No. 8), The Force for Peace in War, Wir Tönen Allein
Sigune von Osten, soprano; Musica-viva-ensemble Dresden; International Bayreuth Youth Festival Orchestra; Jürgen Wirrmann, Matthias Kuntzsch, conductors
Gloria Coates (b. 1938) is of a modernist generation for whom music is a vehicle for dark, disturbing emotions, for whom the range of musical sounds must be greatly expanded to blast through audience complacency and address the special horrors of our time. At the same time, she is capable, as few members of her generation are, of limiting her materials and welding a work into a single gesture. She realizes, as most serialist and expressionist composers have not realized, how much more intense a piece of music can become when it is narrowly focused, when it does not flutter around to every possible technique, but hammers away within well-defined limits.
These thoughts are inspired particularly by these vocal works of Coates's, which are so much darker than her usual instrumental music. Coates is best known, after all, not for vocal music, but for her symphonies. And, diverse as her work is, its common denominator, the technique she has been most associated with, is the glissando, the gradual upward and downward pitch shift, like a siren. In their emphasis on text and emotion, the pieces here sometimes push the glissando out of the limelight, but glissandos still inform the background of every piece at some point.
When Coates turns to the human voice, she is typically atypical. None of these works fits neatly into a genre of vocal music. Even the earliest and most conventional piece here, The Force for Peace in War, is a kind of mini-cantata of heterogeneous text elements. The voice is sometimes absent from most of the work, and appears almost as a distancing element, like a lone human figure on a panoramic landscape. Moreover, Coates says, "the texts for Cette Blanche Agonie, Fonte di Rimini, and Indian Sounds should not be understood. The music is the text really ... [the structure is] derived from elements of the text ... so the text itself is used as part of the music abstractly."
It all gives us a different view of Coates, with her love for canons, symmetries, geometric patterns pushed slightly to the background to make room for the more human concerns of the texts. And it further illuminates one of the most original composers of the late twentieth century, a woman who evolved her own compelling aesthetic by applying minimalist intensity to an expressionist vocabulary.
Reviews"One big reason you'll get caught up in the music has to do with the stellar performers. Featured soprano Sigune von Osten admirably copes with the composer's frequently high tessitura and cruel demands vis-Ã -vis breath control. Kyle Gann's sympathetic, impeccably detailed annotations brilliantly guide you through all the nooks and crannies of Coates' idiosyncratic, compelling aesthetic. Hear for yourself." - Classics Today