Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
“Litanies of Love and Rain.”
Symphony No. 3,
“Ave Maris stella.”
Songlines, Sun Dreaming.
Sonata for Organ and Violin
Kirk Trevor, cond;
Bohuslav Martinu PO;
Stephen Schultz (Baroque fl);
Rachel Gough (vn);
Rupert Gough (org)
NAXOS 8.559329 (73:40)
Carson Cooman (b.1982) is obviously a young man in a hurry, because his bio contains a works list already topping 600! I’ve heard of him for some time now, and I have friends whose jaws have dropped when they discover his real age. This could of course just be a setup for a fall, because a serious case of “tonorrhea” can have the same result. I’m glad to report, however, that Cooman has something to say, an engaging voice to do so, and real musical chops.
Most of the works on this program are compact, and work in single movement forms, even those with histories of more expansive developmental argument. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to revisit some later in his career and expand them.) While the Second Symphony (2004) and Piano Concerto (2005) each sound as though they could be a movement in a larger architecture, they also have enough diversity of materials to be formally satisfying in their own right. The Symphony leads off the program and neatly presents Cooman’s practice—bright, declamatory gestures; a variety of instrumental colors, especially in short, dramatic solos; tendrils of counterpoint emerging from pedal points; chromatic harmony that sounds neither very dissonant nor conservatively tonal. Part of the practice, like the orchestration and pedals, seems connected to his very active career as an organist. And the overall aesthetic reminds me of both Copland (through the more severe works) and Ives (albeit less so).
The Piano Concerto is built around a little neo-Mozartean fragment, and projects great wit and tensile strength.
Songlines, Sun Dreaming
(2001) is an orchestral tone poem dedicated to the Australian master composer Peter Sculthorpe, and is perhaps my favorite work on the program: its intense poetry of interlocking motives kept me engaged throughout. The 2003 Partita for Baroque flute is a sly two-movement essay that makes no attempt to hide the slightly plaintive, hollow timbre of the instrument. The 2005
for violin and organ is an atmospheric invocation.
The Third Symphony (2005) doesn’t work as well for me. Based on the famous plainchant of its subtitle, it never builds up quite the head of steam I was anticipating. Indeed, one thing Cooman may want to think about a bit is how to continue to develop his rhythmic language, because when it gets fast, it often becomes heavier (the exception being the Concerto, which has the advantage of Classical harmonic rhythm and figuration to propel it).
And the 2004 Sonata, while perfectly successful, feels less adventurous to me. The concluding movement, “Keep on Shining!” is a kind of hoedown-in-the chapel that projects too much “uplift” for my taste. But I suspect others will find it charming and witty (which it is).
One might also argue that if Copland is a model, the ability to write music that ranges from modes populist to visionary is an inherently good thing. Indeed, just recently reading Virgil Thomson’s
The State of Music
(still as relevant as ever, almost 70 years down the pike), it’s his very definition of a successful composer. So I wouldn’t want to kneecap Cooman with this criticism, as he’s very much a work-in-progress, and I suspect it will be a pleasure to watch the twists and turns he takes in his creative and professional life.
All the performances seem engaged, accurate, and expressive. While the sonic ambience varies from work to work due to the variety of recording venues, the production serves the music well throughout.
FANFARE: Robert Carl
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano, Op. 649 by Carson P. Cooman
Nora Skuta (Piano)
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Vision, Op. 646 by Carson P. Cooman
Rupert Gough (Organ),
Rachel Gough (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Songlines, Sun Dreaming, Op. 307 by Carson P. Cooman
Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
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