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Robert Carl
Fanfare, January 2008

Carson Cooman (b.1982) is obviously a young man in a hurry, because his bio contains a works list already topping 600! I’ve heard of him for some time now, and I have friends whose jaws have dropped when they discover his real age. This could of course just be a setup for a fall, because a serious case of “tonorrhea” can have the same result. I’m glad to report, however, that Cooman has something to say, an engaging voice to do so, and real musical chops.

Most of the works on this program are compact, and work in single movement forms, even those with histories of more expansive developmental argument. (I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to revisit some later in his career and expand them.) While the Second Symphony (2004) and Piano Concerto (2005) each sound as though they could be a movement in a larger architecture, they also have enough diversity of materials to be formally satisfying in their own right. The Symphony leads off the program and neatly presents Cooman’s practice—bright, declamatory gestures; a variety of instrumental colors, especially in short, dramatic solos; tendrils of counterpoint emerging from pedal points; chromatic harmony that sounds neither very dissonant nor conservatively tonal. Part of the practice, like the orchestration and pedals, seems connected to his very active career as an organist. And the overall aesthetic reminds me of both Copland (through the more severe works) and Ives (albeit less so).

The Piano Concerto is built around a little neo-Mozartean fragment, and projects great wit and tensile strength. Songlines, Sun Dreaming (2001) is an orchestral tone poem dedicated to the Australian master composer Peter Sculthorpe, and is perhaps my favorite work on the program: its intense poetry of interlocking motives kept me engaged throughout. The 2003 Partita for Baroque flute is a sly two-movement essay that makes no attempt to hide the slightly plaintive, hollow timbre of the instrument. The 2005 Vision for violin and organ is an atmospheric invocation.

The Third Symphony (2005) doesn’t work as well for me. Based on the famous plainchant of its subtitle, it never builds up quite the head of steam I was anticipating. Indeed, one thing Cooman may want to think about a bit is how to continue to develop his rhythmic language, because when it gets fast, it often becomes heavier (the exception being the Concerto, which has the advantage of Classical harmonic rhythm and figuration to propel it).

And the 2004 Sonata, while perfectly successful, feels less adventurous to me. The concluding movement, “Keep on Shining!” is a kind of hoedown-in-the chapel that projects too much “uplift” for my taste. But I suspect others will find it charming and witty (which it is).

One might also argue that if Copland is a model, the ability to write music that ranges from modes populist to visionary is an inherently good thing. Indeed, just recently reading Virgil Thomson’s The State of Music (still as relevant as ever, almost 70 years down the pike), it’s his very definition of a successful composer. So I wouldn’t want to kneecap Cooman with this criticism, as he’s very much a work-in-progress, and I suspect it will be a pleasure to watch the twists and turns he takes in his creative and professional life. All the performances seem engaged, accurate, and expressive. While the sonic ambience varies from work to work due to the variety of recording venues, the production serves the music well throughout.

Robert Carl
Fanfare, January 2008

All the performances seem engaged, accurate, and expressive. While the sonic ambience varies from work to work due to the variety of recording venues, the production serves the music well throughout. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

The American Organist, November 2007

The American Organist, November 2007

Born in 1982, Carson Cooman is one of the most active and prodigious musicians on the scene today. He already has produced more than 600 works for various musical media and is in constant demand for commissions. A concert organist, he specializes in an international repertoire of contemporary works, many composed specifically for him. This disc features a wide sampling of his music. All but one of the works receives its premiere recording here. Composed in 2004, Symphony No. 2, subtitled “Litanies of Love and Rain,” is inspired by the poem, “Desiring the Solitude of Rain,” by American poet Kathleen Wakefield. Cooman uses multiple motifs and gestures within a thoroughly modern harmonic idiom, and demonstrates skill and imagination in his manipulation of orchestral color. The monodic Partita (2003) for solo Baroque flute has two contrasting movements that explore the instrument's varying timbres. Piano Concerto (2005) is scored for strings and solo piano, cast in a single, two-section movement. Inspired by Mozart concertos, it juxtaposes classically inspired musical motifs with contemporary, dissonant harmonies, drawing the listener into an otherworldly time warp. The gentle, meditative Vision (2005) for violin and organ was written in celebration of the birth of Rupert and Rachel Gough's daughter. Symphony No. 3 (“Ave Maris Stella”), composed in 2005, is based on the plainchant melody of its title. In two movements (“Pentimento” and “Interrupted Motet”) the chant gradually surfaces from obscuritv. Sonelines. Sundreaming (2001) is inspired by images from Australia, especially as envisioned by its dedicatee, Peter Sculthorpe. Cooman employs distinctive motifs and colors to project specific images. The three-movement Sonata for Violin and Organ (2004) was commissioned for and dedicated to the performers on this recording. The first two movements are reflective, while the last (“Keep on Shining!”) is a rip-roaring romp inspired by American folk and gospel music. It is a joyful conclusion to the sonata and to the entire program. All musicians perform with conviction, skill, and musical understanding. Cooman displays a creative maturity well beyond his years. Combining traditional compositional techniques such as hocket, counterpoint, and sonata form with contemporary procedures and harmonies, he fashions music of great interest, contrast, intellectual stimulation, and depth. This is music well worth knowing.

William Yeoman
Limelight, August 2007

Cooman works in many forms and this disc would therefore seem to be a good overview of his compositional activities, ranging as it does from the symphony through the concerto and chamber music to a work for solo flute. To begin with the latter, the two-movement Partita was specifically written to take advantage of the colours of the wooden baroque flute, and it’s interesting to hear these reflected in the much larger-scale works surrounding it, the multi-hued Symphony No 2 and the polystylistic, chamber-like Concerto for piano and strings. Following these three works are the meditative and mysterious Vision for violin and organ, the transparent Symphony no 3 for chamber orchestra, the weightier Songlines, Sun Dreaming for orchestra and the substantial though eminently tuneful Sonata for Violin and Organ. All exhibit lyricism and playfulness in equal measure, and are accessible without being superficial. You’re often reminded of Copland and Hovhaness, among others, but without the originality of the former or the expansive vision of the latter.

Gough, organ, June 2007

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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2007

With over six hundred works already completed, the twenty-five-year-old American, Carson Cooman, must be the world's most prolific composer and makes Mozart seem dilatory by comparison. A melodic composer, who at times is sliding towards atonalism, his music falls easily on the ear and is among the listener-friendly writers to come from the States in recent years. The disc gives a good cross-section of his output in the four years from 2001, most of the pieces written to specific commissions. Maybe the quiet and at times pensive nature of the Second Symphony does not reveal the picture suggested by its subtitle, and if I were just coming to Cooman, I would want to start at the outgoing Piano Concerto with its catchy melodic content. It calls for a flamboyant performance that these highly committed musicians bring to the music. The Third Symphony is made of much more acerbic and punchy material, the plainchant input having a vibrant quality that becomes highly charged through the second and final movement. Songlines, Sun Dreaming reminds me of modern Australian music, while the two works for violin and organ, Vision and the Sonata, are nicely crafted, though the church acoustic gives and unusual and much enlarged sound to Rachel Gough's violin. In the Partita Cooman explores the unique sound of the baroque flute, rather emphasising the 'out of tune' part of the instrument. He could surely never have wanted for more deeply committed accounts, the two orchestras involved (the Bohuslav Martinu just appearing in Songlines, Sun Dreaming) going far beyond the call of duty.

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