Carson Cooman on Naxos

Carson Cooman, composer

Naxos American Classics

Symphony No. 2, ‘Litanies of Love and Rain'; Partita; Piano Concerto; Vision; Symphony No. 3, ‘Ave Maris Stella'; Songlines, Sun Dreaming; Sonata for Violin and Organ.

Stephen Schultz, flute; Nora Skuta, piano; Rachel Gough, violin; Rupert Gough, Organ; Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Kirk Trevor, conductor.

Carson Cooman (b. 1982) is quite a surprise to find on the American Classics series on Naxos. One might ask if such a young composer’s music can truly be considered “classic.” History will make the final call, but one cannot raise issue that Mr. Cooman’s music draws much from the traditional populist American symphonists.

Mr. Cooman’s orchestral music is represented on this disc by Symphonies 2 and 3 as well as Songlines, Sun Dreaming. These three works all exhibit the same basic qualities: a wistful, expansive, and contemplative mood; fresh, bright, traditional harmonies; and a fondness for extended wind solos over a string orchestra drone (often a high string pedal tone). Symphony No. 2 is the most stratified work on the disc. There is a clear melodic layer (one melody at a time, each presented by a different wind soloist) and a clear accompaniment layer (the strings). Symphony No. 3 begins with a more organic and connected series of gestures but the clarity of texture found in Symphony No. 2 returns and remains.

Two works on this disc are for violin and organ: Vision and the Sonata for Violin and Organ. Again, these pieces are slow moving, serene, lyrical, and expansive. The separation of violin melody and organ accompaniment is almost carved in stone. Only in the final movement of the Sonata does any rhythmic life and vitality spring to the foreground.

The two remaining works are Partita for solo baroque flute and the Piano Concerto. Partita does not owe much to Baroque music. The first of the two movements is, you guessed it, wistful and expansive. The second movement is more rhythmical, still with a serene melodic section. While I do enjoy hearing the timbre of the baroque flute, these works could easily be played on a standard concert flute without negative effects. The Piano Concerto, with string accompaniment, is a delightfully quirky piece. I came to enjoy this piece quite a bit. It sounds very much like a polite John Zorn, interrupting and shutting off ideas on a whim over the course of 9 minutes.

While all works are solidly constructed and well performed, I do walk away from the CD with some problems. Mr. Cooman has clearly absorbed the lyrical and expansive music of the American Symphonists, but almost completely disregards rhythmic vitality. In the orchestral music I longed for a raucous timpani explosion a la Bill Schuman. In the chamber music, I yearned for rhythmic interplay between performers. The Piano Concerto, with its quirky fun and jerky changes of material, shows that Mr. Cooman can bring rhythm to the table. I hope that, in his next disc, it is a more constant feature.

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