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Carson COOMAN (b. 1982)
Symphony No. 2 Litanies of Love and Rain Op. 574 (2004) [10:26]
Partita for baroque flute Op. 526 (2003) [6:05]
Piano Concerto Op. 649 (2005) [8:41]
Vision for violin and organ Op. 646 (2005) [3:38]
Symphony No. 3 Ave Maris Stella Op. 650 (2005) [16:34]
Songlines, Sun Dreaming Op. 307 (2001) [6:53]
Sonata for violin and organ Op. 573 (2004) [21:24]
Stephen Schultz (baroque flute), Nora Skuta (piano), Rachel Gough (violin), Rupert Gough (organ)
Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic Orchestra (op. 307), Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (opp. 574, 649, 650)/Kirk Trevor (opp. 307, 574, 649, 650)
rec. Slovak Radio Hall, Bratislava, 15 April 2005, 11 November 2005, 10 March 2006 (opp. 574, 649, 650); Kresge Recital Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, 24 September 2005 (op. 526); Philharmonic Hall, Zlin, Czech Republic, 12 December 2001 (op. 307); Chapel of the Royal Holloway, University of London, 12 January 2006 (opp. 573, 646); DDD

For reasons I am sure I don’t need to spell out, reviewers have become a little more questioning recently. The back-liner of this disc omits the opus numbers but, when I opened the booklet and saw them, my initial admiration for a 23 year old U.S. composer who was writing his third symphony turned to a degree of scepticism. Opus 650?! I suppose Mozart wrote about that many works in his 35 years and there is a 10 minute symphony and an 8 minute piano concerto on the disc. Few modern composers seem to publish extensively in their youth. One can imagine that it might be easier to write and publish music today than in Mozart’s time although it is probably a lot harder to get works performed. Anyhow, I soon found the composer’s website detailing the works, many of them commissioned and providing information about performances. I also found three previous reviews of discs containing his works on MusicWeb International (see links below). So, apologies to Mr. Cooman for ever having doubted you.
From the evidence of this disc Cooman has a pluralistic style. His Americanism is often detectable but, apart from in the last movement of the violin and organ sonata, rarely striking. The composer whose influence seemed to me most obvious is Alan Hovhaness. Apart from composing large numbers of generally short works with titles and outsize opus numbers, there are aural parallels – tonal music that has a pulse that tends to feel slow, simple harmonies, imaginative colouring and so on. But Cooman seems less homogenous, at least from this imaginatively programmed CD.
The Second Symphony was inspired by the poetry of Kathleen Wakefield although the work’s title is presumably the composer’s own. It is in three parts with a coda with a relatively fast middle section. The rain never comes although it is promised at the very end. The orchestration is wonderful with prominent trumpet solo and bells.
The Partita for baroque flute has two movements marked Cantus and Ludus. I have no complaints about the attractive music and natural playing of Stephen Schultz but this was a bit too closely recorded for my taste.
The Piano Concerto is a brief gem written with Mozart’s 250th anniversary in mind and looking imaginatively back at those of his concertos – such as K449 – for which small accompanying forces are optimal. Nora Skuta does a fine job with the solo part.
The combination of violin and organ is unusual and the latter is Cooman’s instrument. Both works for this combination were written with the present performers – Rachel and Rupert Gough – in mind. Visions was written to celebrate the birth of the Goughs’ daughter. It is an atmospheric and contemplative work, hopeful and symbolising a beginning. Despite the difference in musical genre, I was reminded of the spirit of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Lullaby for Lucy.
Although the forces used are smaller, the Third Symphony is a significantly more substantial work than its predecessor – not just in size but in the development of its musical ideas. The title reflects the work’s origins in plainchant.
Songlines, Sun Dreaming is the oldest work here – written at the age of 19 and apparently recorded before – all the others are première recordings. It is dedicated to Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe and contains allusions to his music.
The sonata for violin and organ is the longest work on the disc and is in three movements entitled Telescope, Ballade for Max (Peter Maxwell Davies of course!) and Keep on Shining! The last movement is striking for use of gospel folk tune and it provides a relatively swift and rousing conclusion. The playing of the dedicatees evidences their belief in the music.
I suppose one should not be surprised that, for the most part, European performers and venues were used although Cooman is credited with being executive producer. In the orchestral works Kirk Trevor secures polished playing from both orchestras. Apart from the forward balance in the Partita, the recorded sound is unobtrusive. Capturing the right blend of violin and organ cannot have been easy but the results are acceptable and rather better in the sonata than in Visions. Cooman contributes excellent notes on each of the works.
The idea of listening to music composed by someone born in the 1980s made me feel old. But actually listening to this music was a very positive experience. A natural successor to Hovhaness, the mind boggles as to how much and what Cooman might write if given another 64 years.
Patrick C Waller

Naxos American Classics page
Links to reviews of other discs of Carson Cooman’s music:
Invocation for Solo Flute and String Orchestra (4Tay)
Threads and other music (Zimbel)
Organ music (Zimbel)


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