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Carson COOMAN (b.1982)
A Trip to the Sky, op.857 (2009) [8:26]
*Schumann Serenade, for string trio, op.732 (2007) [7:00]
*Quartet for Piano and Strings (A Sea Liturgy), op.855 (2009) [16:17]
**Tombeau-Aria, for string quartet, op.541 (2003) [3:12]
**Four Aphoristic Inventions, for string quartet, op.559 (2003) [4:22]
+Estampie, for two violins, op.752 (2008) [3:50]
+Viola Quintet (Unquiet Parables), op.856 (2009) [13:17]
++Cavatina, for viola and piano, op.776 (2008) [6:23]
++Planctus, for solo viola, op.499 (2005) [5:09]
Carson Cooman (piano) [op.857]
*Marek Zwiebel (violin), Peter Zwiebel (viola), Jozef Lupták (cello), Nora Skuta (piano)
**Vladimír Harvan (violin), Lucia Harvanová (violin), Zuzana Bourová (viola), Jozef Podhoránsky (cello)
+Marián Svetlik (violin), Juraj Tomka (violin), Julián Veverica (viola), Juraj Madari (viola), Ivan Tvrdík (cello)
++Sarah Darling (viola), Jeffrey Grossman (piano)
rec. Slovak Radio Studios, Bratislava, 4-8 June 2010; Futura Productions, Roslindale, MA, 9 June 2010 [Trip, Cavatina, Planctus]. DDD
MSR CLASSICS MS 1387 [68:01]

Experience Classicsonline

With this release MSR Classics join a growing list of independent labels recording the music of American composer Carson Cooman: this is the fourteenth in all dedicated solely to his works, and Cooman is still not even 30. Many previous releases have been reviewed, generally warmly, on MusicWeb International - two fairly recent orchestral ones germane perhaps to this latest can be read here and here.

If such a quantity of recordings appears overkill for an 'obscure' living composer, it isn't - Cooman's obscurity has to do with the effete priorities of contemporary society, not with his music. His works evince a vivid combination of inspired mellifluousness, emotional excitement and creative expressiveness.

As it happens, Cooman is one of the most prolific composers of all time. The newest work on this disc is the title piece, A Trip to the Sky, published as his opus 857. But that was over a year ago - the latest piece to be listed on Cooman's website at the time of writing is a five-minute Prelude and Fugue for organ - op.913! In fact he has been publishing a new work at the incredible rate of more than one a week for sixteen years. Admittedly, many are only two, three, four minutes in length, but there are a great number over ten minutes. Such prolific production also reflects enormous breadth. He has written for virtually every solo instrument and every combination of two or more instruments. This amounts to a mind-boggling fertility and application.

The CD opens with the intrigue of A Trip to the Sky. Though performed here by Cooman himself on the piano, the work is described as being for "any instrument or combination of instruments": the score must make for interesting viewing! The piece ends dramatically, yet need not do - another quirk of the score is that it consists of 9 sections which may be played "in any order, combination or manner". From this it might be tempting to think that Cooman is one of "those experimentalists" - but whatever ideas, fanciful or otherwise, may lie behind any given work, what really counts is what the score actually sounds like in performance. In that regard Cooman is unfailingly communicative. His music is at least as pleasing to the 'general ear' as it is intellectually stimulating. Schumann Serenade, the second track, immediately confirms this.

A good deal of the music on this strings-oriented disc, such as the Tombeau-Aria, Planctus and the Cavatina, is fairly slow, contemplative and atmospheric. This usefully gives the listener more time to marvel at Cooman's imagination: the sceptic will find no effects for the sake of effect here. The two longest works - the Piano Quartet and the Viola Quintet - are probably the finest, but it is also fair to say that every item on the disc stands up very well to repeated hearing. Hearing this music, all of which Cooman wrote in his 20s - together with more than 800 other published works, remember - the listener can only begin to wonder what Cooman will have achieved musically in another twenty years!

Only Estampie and the Tombeau-Aria have been previously recorded. Sound quality is almost as good as it gets. The only unwanted noise comes from the violist's inhalations in Planctus. The balance between soloists is likewise superb. All the performers, most of whom are leading Slovakian musicians, sound at their best. The booklet gives brief biographies of everyone, as well as a more technical description by Cooman of each work.

An outstanding disc in every regard.

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