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Carson COOMAN (b. 1982)
Sacred Choral Music
Adam Lay Ybounden Op. 576 (2004) [1:57]
In The Beginning Was the Word Op. 161 (1999, rev 2003) [2:43]
A Cosmic Prayer Op. 460 (2002) [2:55]
New World Carols: An American Christmas Triptych Op. 5151 (2003) [11:29]
Builders for Christ Op.498 (2003) [4:39]
O Perfect Life of Love Op. 361 (2002) [3:34]
Premat Mundus Op. 597 (2004) [2:31]
The Way, the Truth, the Life Op. 381 (2002) [3:31]
God, You Move Among Us Op. 657 (2005) [2:55]
Easter Triumph! Easter Joy! Op. 585 (2004) [3:37]
Missa Brevis (“Trottier”) Op. 558 (2004) [9:15]
I Will Pour Out My Spirit Op. 683 (2006) [3:41]
Be Present, Holy Trinity Op. 586 (2004) [5:08]
O Bone Jesu Op. 517 (2003) [3:27]
Psalm 66 (Be Joyful in God) Op. 664 (2005) [3:33]
The Lamp of Charity Op. 489 (2003) [3:29]
Prayer of Julian of Norwich Op. 528 (2003) [2:38]
Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (“St Peter’s, Cambridge”) Op. 470 (2003) 7:45]
The Choir of Royal Holloway, University of London/Rupert Gough
Samuel Rathbone (organ)
rec. 24-25 April 2007, Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Reading, Berkshire, UK. DDD
Original Texts and English translations included
NAXOS AMERICAN CLASSICS 8.559361 [79:36]
Experience Classicsonline

So far as I’m aware I haven’t previously encountered the music of Carson Cooman. However, I see that several discs of his music have already been reviewed on MusicWeb. Bob Briggs reviewed a CD devoted to songs and piano music while another disc, of piano music, was appraised by Dan Morgan. Patrick Waller was generally welcoming when he reviewed a disc of orchestral music. I’ve deliberately tried not to read their reviews in any depth so as to form an unbiased opinion.
 
The first thing that struck me when I received this CD was the sheer industry of Mr Cooman. Though he was born as recently as 1982 it appears from the material included here that by 2006 he had already notched up Op. 683 and one assumes that further music has been composed since then. Yet Cooman is also active as an organist, specialising in contemporary music, and also as a writer and musicologist. One might legitimately wonder where he gets the time for all this activity.
 
From the brief biography in the booklet we learn that his composition teachers have included Bernard Rands and Judith Weir. To judge from the music on this disc he writes tonal, accessible music. The pieces on this disc sound to be very skilfully written for choir and, as one might expect from an organist, the pieces that are accompanied have effective organ parts. The style is almost exclusively homophonic.
 
All the pieces on the programme were written in response to specific commissions, mostly from churches, the majority of which seem to be in New England, or from conductors. That may account for the accessible nature of the writing. I suspect Mr Cooman sought to make these pieces relatively easy – and I don’t use that word pejoratively – for audiences or congregations to assimilate and enjoy at first hearing. In that I’d say he’s succeeded. To what extent he’s succeeded in writing music that says anything new I’m not quite so sure.
 
The music, which is consistently well crafted, has a good deal of surface appeal but it seems to fall between two stools. It rather lacks the originality – and daring – of some composers who have written challenging but accessible music for choirs – I’m thinking of composers such as James Macmillan or Judith Bingham. On the other hand, it doesn’t really have the melodic appeal of a composer such as John Rutter.
 
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the music. The Missa Brevis, for example, is a succinct setting, which contains a rather beautiful ‘Lamb of God’. The Mass sounds well here and I should think it works well in a liturgical context. I’ suggest that the Evening Canticles, placed at the very end of the programme, are also effective liturgical items. I think I prefer Cooman’s slow music – of which there’s quite a bit in this recital – to his faster pieces. Often, when he writes in a vigorous vein – for example in Adam Lay Ybounden; in the exuberant outer sections of Easter Triumph! Easter Joy!; or in his setting of  Psalm 66 - one feels one has heard many similar pieces written, just as well, by other hands. His slow music does have a sincerity and directness of expression that’s effective. One such piece is The Lamp of Charity. Also worthy of citation are the slow, mysterious In The Beginning Was the Word and Prayer of Julian of Norwich, which is grave and rather lovely.   
 
In summary, my feeling is that this music would be excellent in the context of church services and that any of these pieces would be a welcome addition to the repertoire of any church choir of a reasonable standard of accomplishment. Whether it justifies a whole CD release I’m less sure. I’d certainly suggest that this is a disc best dipped into rather than for listening right through. I can’t escape the niggling feeling that perhaps, as a composer, Carson Cooman is just a little too prolific for his own good.
 
The performances by the Royal Holloway choir are excellent - I especially admire the choir’s blend and their clear, fresh sound. They are sympathetically recorded and the engineers achieve a good balance between the choir and the accomplished organ playing of Samuel Rathbone.
 
John Quinn
 
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