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Carson COOMAN (b.1982)
Seascape Passion; Midday Brightness (Third Piano Sonata) Op.466  (2002) [12:23]
Kayser Variations (1997) Op.63 [5:59]
Dream-Tombeau; Crucifixus (2003) Op.516  [21:30]
For Gwyneth (1999) Op.168  [2:49]
Dream Etudes Book II (2001) Op.253  [10:09]
Postcard Partita (2002) Op.420  [9:01]
Fourth Piano Sonata (2005) Op.620 [15:02]
Donna Amato (piano)
rec. Kresge Recital Hall, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, July 2006  
NAXOS 8.559350 [77:12]



Carson Cooman is a prolific composer as those who have cause to write about him invariably take care to note. For a composer who has not yet progressed beyond his mid-twenties his opus tally is astounding. I note that Naxos doesn’t print these details in its outer case track-listing but does do so in the composer’s own liner notes. Thus the most recent work here, the Fourth Piano Sonata, bears the opus number 620. This perhaps shouldn’t cause critics to narrow their eyes as much as perhaps they do, but it’s certainly the case that Cooman has made Villa Lobos and Milhaud look positively dilatory.
 
Cooman may be better known for his piano works written for orchestral forces but the solo piano works have their own strong character. It’s fortunate that they’re played by that champion of music new and obscured, Donna Amato. She’s a splendid exponent, architecturally and tonally sensitive, and capable of considerable interpretative nuance.
 
Seascape Passion; Midday Brightness (the Third Piano Sonata) was written in 2002. It opens in jagged and unlikeable fashion before calming in the clement breeze of its second section, chordal and strong; brittle raindrops fall abruptly. We end in contrasting twilight. Cooman claims here a fusion of technical astuteness and nature painting to produce a twelve-minute work of strong contrasts and complex sound world. 
 
The Kayser Variations is a set of variations on God Save the Queen.  It’s heard in mutilated form in the broken down left hand voicings or heard in substituted chords – or indeed stated in full. Rather amusingly Cooman doesn’t stint some wry, verbose and slangy voicings, nor indeed does he shy away from a modicum of good old school barrelhouse.
 
Dream-Tombeau; Crucifixus is the longest work here.  It was written for the Canadian pianist, composer and researcher Gordon Rumson in 2003. Cooman notes that it was inspired by Rumson’s piano playing and musicianship. It includes a twelve-tone row, a tonal, chordal section and a quotation from Lassus. It’s a long work and despite repeated hearings I can’t bring myself to like it. Silences are extended and there are some terse flurries not unreminiscent of some of the more bracing and argumentative moments of Seascape Passion. The whole thing sounds endless.
 
Much more enlivening is Dream Etudes Book II, which cribs from Debussy and employs some brusque carillon gestures amidst a driving toccata and more Cooman glowering. The Postcard Partita is a compact five-movement work that seems to quote Frère Jacques and embraces the languid and romantic in A Postcard to Galesburg – the most immediately attractive of the five if one discounts the rather joyous and ebullient final movement, A Summer Sunrise.
 
It’s the more unbuttoned romantic side of Cooman that I prefer. The more divisive aspects of his writing are outweighed by the limpid in the Fourth sonata, which is topped by a Chopinesque salute in the final movement. 
 
This is a difficult compilation to assess. Cooman ranges over moods and styles with some avidity. His more mottled, tense writing has a rather implacable bleakness, the monastic stasis he sometimes seeks – as in Dream-Tombeau; Crucifixus - can sound merely arid; but the more extrovert and pluralistic writing has real verve.
 
Jonathan Woolf

Naxos American Classics page 



 


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