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Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, January 2011

Eight recent pieces by the endlessly-prolific Carson Cooman, all part of a larger cycle of works inspired by the Nantucket region of Massachusetts, where the composer spends portions of his summers.

Half of these pieces’ titles carry the original American Indian place names followed by the word “Dreaming”. The program opens with Miacomet Dreaming (2008), a moody little tonal tone poem for orchestra depicting sunset on the Miacomet beach. Nobadeer Dreaming (2008) has former American Brass Quintet member Chris Gekker playing introspectively on flugelhorn on that beach. As an interlude, a quintet for bassoon and strings (2005–08) is a lyrical 13-minute piece with a harsh scherzo in between the somewhat meandering slow music. It ends with gleaming harmonics in the strings accompanying the rather vague bassoon.

Returning to the “dreaming” motif, Madaket Dreaming (2008) is a romantic nocturne for piano dedicated to Max Lifchitz. Shawkemo Dreaming (2009), the most recent piece here (Cooman’s Opus 811), is a brief Americanist vision for string orchestra. The Americanist flavor continues with the Lyric Trio (2007), the longest work on the program at 19 minutes, scored for the unusual ensemble of trumpet, cello, and piano. An attractive suite in six movements, the piece recalls Copland and Barber in its 40s-ish American romanticism. It should find a healthy place on student chamber recitals.

Sankaty Dreaming (2002) is Cooman’s Fourth String Quartet. This two-movement work deals with the erosion of Sankaty Bluff with its accompanying lighthouse. Freer harmonically than the other works in this cycle, the piece is expressive and makes its points effectively.

Finally, Flying Machine (2008), written for James Yannatos and his Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, is a jovial orchestral piece on the beginnings of flight as we know it. It makes for a positive close to this stylistically scattered but well-packed program. As for the performances, the chamber music is fine, the orchestral performances weak.

Robert Carl
Fanfare, January 2011

Any review of Carson Cooman must inevitably begin with his extraordinary prolificity. He’s at the moment of this review 28 years old, the most recent work on this CD dates from 2009 and is op. 811, and one must assume a number of works have already issued from the pipeline since. Add to that his work as a performer (organist), arts consultant, and critic for this publication, and you get an idea of just what a phenomenon he is. [Regarding the last category, I found myself catching up on Fanfares from the last few cycles, reading a review of Maxwell Davies’ opera Taverner in 33:4, and thinking, “Gosh, this review is long but it’s incredibly informative and well written; I’m actually learning something.” And behold, when I got to the end I saw it was by CC.]

So OK, the by-now-usual introduction can be dispensed with. Because the composer is what I’d call a “good acquaintance,” I approached this review with a little trepidation, because I always fear that with so much music it’s going to sound like boilerplate, and I may be put in an embarrassing situation. But the near-miraculous thing is that Cooman continues to write music that’s this good, even with his breathless pace of production. All of these pieces have some connection to Nantucket, a place dear to the composer’s heart, either through impressionistic evocation of landscape, or association with a memorable personal experience. They range from orchestra to solo trumpet, and cover various chamber ensembles in between.

Cooman is a composer whose deepest roots seem to be in the American mid 20th-century tradition of nationalist/pantonalist composers. So his music always has strong melodic and motivic hooks, clearly pronounced and developed. But he’s hardly unaware of the rest of the century’s legacy. The bassoon quintet, for one example, has coloristic touches (such as the “mobile” of string harmonics that concludes the work’s accompaniment) that reflect the changes in the color/timbre palette we’ve seen over the past few decades. And though a lyrical essay very much in the old style (as its title indicates), the trio for trumpet, cello, and piano transcends the possible pitfalls of its instrumentation to sound so natural that one wonders why it hasn’t been used extensively by others before.

The strongest argument for this music comes from its obvious commitment to its materials, the composer’s deep hearing of what he’s writing, and a refusal to settle for easy solutions. To my taste the best two pieces are the orchestral ones framing the program, Miacomet Dreaming, with its utterly obsessive dotted rhythm motive, and Flying Machine, which is wonderfully extravagant in its ideas and orchestration.

The downside is that there’s just so much of it, and it seems like fabric cut from an endless roll (albeit of exceptional workmanship and quality). I only know a fraction of the composer’s output from a few CDs, but it does seem that he specializes in shorter works, or longer ones in compact multiple movements. I feel that he’s poised to write something far more deeply wrought on every level, of grand ambition in scale, and often of rich and complex detail, and the time for this is ripe. This disc in fact suggests a move in that direction, as all the works share a common inspiration, though it might be hard to know that without the notes’ guidance.

One can’t help but think a little bit of the Mozart paradigm. I’m not arguing that Cooman is the reincarnation thereof, but like Wolfgang, he comes happily endowed with a talent that can pick up a pretty well-defined style (in Cooman’s case, 20th-century neoclassicism, leavened with Modernist advances) and do with it pretty much what he pleases. Up to this point, he’s shown remarkable talent while he figures out his take on this source. I continue to be entertained and moved by what he does, which is more than one can say about many composers. But given what seems to be his ambition and ultimate aims, I don’t think I’m far off-base now in saying what Diaghilev said to Stravinsky: “Amaze me.”

Film Music: The Neglected Art, September 2010

For a twenty eight year man Carson has certainly kept himself busy considering his opus numbers which exceed over 800 as of 2009. This is in addition to writer, reviewer, and musical consultant. Apparently he has learned how to survive without sleep! This new recording which consists of eight different works all inspired by beautiful Nantucket Island, is yet another example of new material to explore on the American Classics series. Having lived in the Boston area for a small part of my life I must confess the title of the work was what got my attention to explore the material further.

Including the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra performing “Miacomet Dreaming” and “Flying Machine,” Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra in “Shawkeno Dreaming,” Chris Gekker on Flueghorn for “Nobadeer Dreaming,” a Bassoon Quintet featuring Roman Mesina, solo piano nocturne with Jeffrey Grossman in “Madaket Dreaming,” a Lyric Trio, and a String Quartet performing “Sankaty Dreaming” you know your in for a varied and unique 70 minutes of listening. Each tells a story and invokes some particular feeling from the listener from sad to happy to pensive or really just shut your eyes and imagine your own landscape or situation. After several listens there seems to be a common thread that somehow bonds all of these pieces together when looking at the track listing of the works it would make no sense at all. Hightlights for this reviewer include the “Flying Machine” which conjures up images of all sorts of soaring experiences. There is a reference to the L. Bernstein song “Maria” from the brass section halfway into the work. “Nobadeer Dreaming” is the first piece that this reviewer has heard written for Flugelhorn, an instrument I always associated with Maynard “Rocky” Ferguson. I was very impressed with the playing ability of Chris Gekker. It made me relive my hours of practice on the trombone trying to achieve that good tone. The “Madaket Dreaming” is a very easy to digest nocturne.

The work is all première recordings and is well recorded and mastered. The liner notes are provided by the composer giving further insight to how it came from thoughts to notes and what inspired Carson. While there are some dissonant passages you can still put this work in a lyrical/melodic category that after the first listen is quite easy to become easily comfortable with. This CD or download is well worth investing in.

Stephen Eddins, September 2010

American composer Carson Cooman has had a phenomenally productive career, with opus numbers into the 800s by his 27th year, and he has maintained an active performance schedule as an organist, as well as being a music journalist and entrepreneur. The works on this CD, written between 2002 and 2007, are scored for a variety of forces ranging from solo to full orchestra, and all were inspired by the landscapes of Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. Cooman’s music is lyrical and tonally centered, but he usually avoids falling into easy neo-Romantic clichés. His is particularly gifted as an orchestrator, and his works are full of delightful colors and inventive effects that he integrates with complete naturalness. In spite of the fact that each of these pieces, many of which have in their titles locations on the island, is linked to a particular landscape or experience, sometimes with programmatic specificity, they are fully successful as abstract music. Particularly effective are Miacomet Dreaming for orchestra and Shawkemo Dreaming for strings, brief tone poems with a bittersweet, evocative character, a specialty of Cooman’s. The Quintet for bassoon and strings is especially attractive, with a striking opening, in which the strings create a dense, harmonic fog out of which the bassoon solo emerges with the clarity of a lighthouse beacon. Madaket Dreaming is a lovely, wistful nocturne for solo piano. The strongest piece may be the Lyric Trio, a compelling, disciplined six-movement work for trumpet, cello, and piano that the composer describes as an “American Travelogue.” The performances by a variety of European orchestras and ensembles and American soloists are uniformly top-notch: polished, sensitive, and energetic. The recordings were made in various venues so the sound somewhat varies from piece to piece, but it is never less than excellent in its clarity and presence.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2010

Born in 1982 Carson Cooman seems intent on outrunning Mozart in the speed and growth of his catalogue, seven of the works included in this new release coming from the years 2007 and 2008. The major score, Nantucket Dreaming, is still in progress and comes from the summer periods he spends in Nantucket Island in New England. Each work has been inspired by a place or vista, and range in size from a full symphony orchestra for Miacomet Dreaming to the solo piano picturing Madaket Dreaming. First timers to Cooman might find each track extremely interesting, yet probably puzzled that they come from the same composer. Maybe Cooman is still musically in transit, enjoying his experiments as he goes along, with the new sounds he draws from a string orchestra in Shawkemo Dreaming. I enjoy the six sections that make up the Lyric Trio for trumpet, cello and piano, and, as the title would suggest, it is in a style that looks backwards to tonality. The influences of Corigliano and Adams is heard in the readily likeable Flying Machine, but it is the Fourth String Quartet, Sankaty Dreaming, that worries me. Packed into the eleven minutes is a most intriguing and very fine two-movement score from the twenty-year-old composer in 2002, for it promises more to me than I find in the reminder of the release. It is played by the Zwiebel Quartet, and as Cooman in also the executive producer we would take these performances, with highly committed playing from the Slovak and Bohuslav Martinu orchestras, as ideal. Volume levels need to be adjusted between tracks, but sound quality is good.

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