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American Classics - Cooman: Nantucket Dreaming

Cooman / Trevor / Zwiebel Quartet / Gekker
Release Date: 08/31/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8559655   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Carson P. Cooman
Performer:  Chris GekkerRoman MesinaJeffrey GrossmanEmmanuel Feldman
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Symphony OrchestraBohuslav Martinu Philharmonic OrchestraZwiebel String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

COOMAN Miacomet Dreaming 1. Nobadeer Dreaming. 2 Bassoon Quintet. 3,4 Shawkemo Dreaming 5. Lyric Trio 6. Snakaty Dreaming (String Quartet No. 4) 4. Flying Machine 1 Kirk Trevor, cond; Read more Slovak NSO; 2 Chris Gekker (flugelhorn); 3 Roman Mesina (bsn); 4 Zweibel Str Qrt; 5 Kirk Trevor, cond; Bohuslav Martinu PO; 6 Chris Gekker (tpt); 6 Emmanuel Feldman (vc); 6 Jeffrey Grossman (pn) NAXOS 8.559655 (71:17)

Any review of Carson Cooman must inevitably begin with his extraordinary prolificity. He’s at the moment of this review 28 years old, the most recent work on this CD dates from 2009 and is op. 811, and one must assume a number of works have already issued from the pipeline since. Add to that his work as a performer (organist), arts consultant, and critic for this publication, and you get an idea of just what a phenomenon he is. [Regarding the last category, I found myself catching up on Fanfare s from the last few cycles, reading a review of Maxwell Davies’ opera Taverner in 33:4, and thinking, “Gosh, this review is long but it’s incredibly informative and well written; I’m actually learning something.” And behold, when I got to the end I saw it was by CC.]

So OK, the by-now-usual introduction can be dispensed with. Because the composer is what I’d call a “good acquaintance,” I approached this review with a little trepidation, because I always fear that with so much music it’s going to sound like boilerplate, and I may be put in an embarrassing situation. But the near-miraculous thing is that Cooman continues to write music that’s this good, even with his breathless pace of production. All of these pieces have some connection to Nantucket, a place dear to the composer’s heart, either through impressionistic evocation of landscape, or association with a memorable personal experience. They range from orchestra to solo trumpet, and cover various chamber ensembles in between.

Cooman is a composer whose deepest roots seem to be in the American mid 20th-century tradition of nationalist/pantonalist composers. So his music always has strong melodic and motivic hooks, clearly pronounced and developed. But he’s hardly unaware of the rest of the century’s legacy. The bassoon quintet, for one example, has coloristic touches (such as the “mobile” of string harmonics that concludes the work’s accompaniment) that reflect the changes in the color/timbre palette we’ve seen over the past few decades. And though a lyrical essay very much in the old style (as its title indicates), the trio for trumpet, cello, and piano transcends the possible pitfalls of its instrumentation to sound so natural that one wonders why it hasn’t been used extensively by others before.

The strongest argument for this music comes from its obvious commitment to its materials, the composer’s deep hearing of what he’s writing, and a refusal to settle for easy solutions. To my taste the best two pieces are the orchestral ones framing the program, Miacomet Dreaming , with its utterly obsessive dotted rhythm motive, and Flying Machine, which is wonderfully extravagant in its ideas and orchestration.

The downside is that there’s just so much of it, and it seems like fabric cut from an endless roll (albeit of exceptional workmanship and quality). I only know a fraction of the composer’s output from a few CDs, but it does seem that he specializes in shorter works, or longer ones in compact multiple movements. I feel that he’s poised to write something far more deeply wrought on every level, of grand ambition in scale, and often of rich and complex detail, and the time for this is ripe. This disc in fact suggests a move in that direction, as all the works share a common inspiration, though it might be hard to know that without the notes’ guidance.

One can’t help but think a little bit of the Mozart paradigm. I’m not arguing that Cooman is the reincarnation thereof, but like Wolfgang, he comes happily endowed with a talent that can pick up a pretty well-defined style (in Cooman’s case, 20th-century neoclassicism, leavened with Modernist advances) and do with it pretty much what he pleases. Up to this point, he’s shown remarkable talent while he figures out his take on this source. I continue to be entertained and moved by what he does, which is more than one can say about many composers. But given what seems to be his ambition and ultimate aims, I don’t think I’m far off-base now in saying what Diaghilev said to Stravinsky: “Amaze me.”

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Miacomet Dreaming, Op. 781 by Carson P. Cooman
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2008 
Nobadeer Dreaming, Op. 784 by Carson P. Cooman
Performer:  Chris Gekker (Flugelhorn)
Written: 2008 
Flying Machine, Op. 775 by Carson P. Cooman
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Slovak State Symphony Orchestra
Written: 2008 
Shawkemo Dreaming, Op. 811 by Carson P. Cooman
Conductor:  Kirk Trevor
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 2009 
Quintet for Bassoon and Strings, Op. 764 by Carson P. Cooman
Performer:  Roman Mesina (Bassoon)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zwiebel String Quartet
Written: 2005-2008 
Lyric Trio, Op. 710 by Carson P. Cooman
Performer:  Jeffrey Grossman (Piano), Chris Gekker (Trumpet), Emmanuel Feldman (Cello)
Written: 2007 
Quartet for Strings no 4, Op. 461, "Sankaty Dreaming" by Carson P. Cooman
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zwiebel String Quartet
Written: 2002 

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