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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music to astonish friends by, 14 Dec. 2007
Jim Shine (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Gloria Coates: Symphony No. 15; Cantata da Requiem; Transitions (Audio CD)
Here's an experiment we should all try occasionally: get a CD of music by a composer whose work you've never heard before, and listen without reading up on the music beforehand. OK, I cheated a little and read the back of the CD, which promised that Gloria Coates is "startlingly individual" - well, that could be good or bad, couldn't it? Either way, I came to this without preconceived notions of what I was supposed to hear. I was rewarded handsomely. The Symphony no.15 was commissioned for Mozart's anniversary in 2006, but one could not by any stretch call it Mozartean (although it does use his Ave verum corpus in the second movement). Startlingly individual is about right - I haven't heard anything quite like this before. The first movement is full of tension and in its "bigness" reminds me of Bruckner (albeit a Bruckner for the space age). If I had read Kyle Gann's useful booklet note first, I would have been well prepared for Coates' "trademarks" - string glissandos, chorales, and quite a bit of martial percussion; as it was, these all came as fascinating novelties. The other movements are also full of drama and flow. This is very accessible music and could make an ideal starting point for listeners who "don't like all that modern stuff".

The Cantata da Requiem is from 1972 and sets the words of German and English women from World War 2. It's recognisably by the same composer although less "weird"; the settings are very evocative, even pictorial at times, and even what seems like a very ordinary piece of writing ("A note from Elfriede Birndorder, a schoolteacher") is invested with quite a bit of weight. The whole piece is very moving, especially with the surprisingly (but effectively) conventional peroration with piano.

Transitions didn't impress me much the first time I heard it, but subsequently reading about the piece clarified things; it's really just that it's generally not as immediate in impact as the symphony, although they share many traits. But a second listen paid off.

All in all, a great introduction to a fascinating composer.
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