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ClassicsOnline Home » COOMAN: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 / Violin Sonata
The young American composer Carson P. Cooman is one of the most active of his generation, having written over six hundred works in many forms. This disc presents a broad overview of his music, from orchestral to chamber and solo works. It includes the lyrical Symphony No. 2, inspired by a poem of Kathleen Wakefield about love and the desire for rain, and his Symphony No. 3, which takes as its source material the plainchant Ave maris stella. Partita explores the baroque flute’s unique sonic properties, and the Piano
Concerto is filled with allusions to classical symphonic form and style, within a contemporary context. Dedicated to the composer Peter
Sculthorpe, Songlines, Sun Dreaming is rich in native Australian imagery.
The American Organist
By Robert Carl
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.
The American Organist
Carson Cooman (b. 1982)
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 • Piano Concerto
Partita • Vision • Songlines, Sun Dreaming • Sonata for Violin and Organ
Symphony No. 2, "Litanies of Love and Rain", Op. 574 (2004) for orchestra is dedicated to Marisa Green. The work is inspired by a poem (" Desiring the Solicitude of Rain ") by the American poet Kathleen Wakefield. Wakefield 's poem contains images of love and journeys amidst the desire for the coming of rain. The rich images provided the conception and inspiration for this symphony. Throughout the piece, the winds and brass play an extensive lyric and melodic rôle: a strand of singing lyricism is always present. Instruments explore and highlight the resonances in melodic and contrapuntal lines of other instruments. The work is cast in three sections (slow-fast-slow) with a coda. The opening section begins with a forceful gesture that returns throughout the work as a "signal". A melodic idea (containing the basic material of the work) is presented at the outset in the clarinet, and it is developed throughout the rest of the section. A faster section emerges in a burst of energy as instruments hocket off each other. The next section is marked "slow, ritualistic". The strings create an otherworldly "harmonic cloud" of gradually shifting and overlapping harmonies. Through this cloud, bassoon, trumpet, and flute solos are heard. Finally, the opening music is recalled in the coda as the potential energy continues to build. The work ends with a surge of anticipation – the rain is about to come: imagined just beyond the horizon.
Partita, Op. 526 (2003) for solo baroque flute was written for and is dedicated to flautist Dolores Zdancewicz, who commissioned a piece specifically to take advantage of the baroque flute's unique sonic properties. The first movement, Cantus (Song), is a simple lyrical piece exploring continuous transformation of the principal melodic ideas. The second movement, Ludus (Game), is in an ABA form. The movement explores the tone color contrast between different note combinations on the baroque flute – the property that some notes have a more "veiled" color than others. It is a movement of humor and zest.
Piano Concerto, Op. 649 (2005) for solo piano and strings was commissioned by Nathaniel Blume and Symphonic Underground. The work was written in celebration of the Mozart Year 2006. Unlike most recent piano concerti, this concerto is designed for small performing forces. It sits somewhere between chamber music and the typical piano concerto. The work was inspired by the various Mozart concerti (such as K. 449) which are often performed with very small string sections. Thus, this concerto may be performed with as few as single strings or a larger string orchestra. The work is cast in one movement, containing two large sections. Structurally, the piece is a highly condensed version of classical period symphonic form. The first section of the work is a rough sonata allegro combined with a slow movement. The second section is a combination of a triple-meter scherzo and a rondo finale. The musical material throughout derives tonally from the three notes of a D-major triad (D, F#, and A). Those three pitches serve as transformation centers for the work's material and also plot the tonal areas of each section. The musical material of the work thus ranges from highly classical melodies (although all original) to more Romantic and modernist elements that transform out of the initial material. Through apposition, these musical materials inform each other.
Vision, Op. 646 (2005) for violin and organ was written in celebration of the birth of Madeleine Isabelle Gough on 12 July 2005, and is also dedicated to her parents Rupert and Rachel Gough. The work is a lyrical meditation – a brief glimpse of a bright future.
Symphony No. 3, "Ave Maris Stella", Op. 650 (2005) was commissioned by the Duquesne Contemporary Ensemble and is dedicated to the composer David Stock. Throughout his career, Stock has been a tireless and generous advocate on behalf of new music and living composers. This work is dedicated to him in tribute as both an important American composer and a significant contributor to America 's contemporary musical life. The work's basic source material is the plainchant Ave maris stella (Hail, star of the sea), appropriate because of Duquesne's standing and history as a Catholic university. When the composition of this work first began, the original plan was for a celebratory and vibrant piece. As the planning progressed, however, personal circumstances intervened and began to change the work's tone, which became substantially bleaker and more obsessive. The title of the first movement, Pentimento, is defined as "an underlying image in a painting, as an earlier painting, that shows through when the top layer of paint has become transparent with age". The melodic and harmonic material for the movement is entirely drawn from the plainchant source, although it is completely transformed and covered up – as in a pentimento. At various points, one can begin to hear the original plainchant "peek out" in subtle ways. The opening section of the movement obsesses again and again on what sounds like a "beginning", as though it is trying to begin again and again. After a brief bassoon cadenza, a fast and driving section starts, marked "sinister". After driving through a series of transformations on the plainchant material, a bridge passage leads to further attempts at the "beginning" again. Finally, these attempts are given up, and the plainchant material (the underlying layer) begins to show through quietly, in preparation for the next movement. In the second movement, Interrupted Motet, the plainchant theme is used in a more straightforward fashion. After the opening declamatory statements, the following sections move between more free developmental techniques, based on the first movement's transformations, and "motet" sections, using cantus firmus methods and textures from Renaissance music. The tone and color palate is, however, much darker and more obsessive. The final motet section ends in a rage-filled shout; the plainchant material is presented again in full force, and the pent-up energy dissipates to the close.
Songlines, Sun Dreaming, Op. 307 (2001) for orchestra was commissioned by Lucy Hodges and is dedicated to the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. The title is based on extra-musical ideas that Sculthorpe frequently explores in his compositions: most notably the idea of "songlines" (lines of song running throughout the earth as creation "sang itself into existence"), the sun (something he sees as part of the essential core of Australian identity), and dreaming (the moods and nostalgia he associates with Australia 's heritage.) There are some musical allusions to Sculthorpe's work (his G - A flat - G "earth motto" and his predilection towards certain intervals). The idea of "sun dreaming" is connected to the nocturnal aspects of the work, for during the night, the sun can be seen as both dreaming itself, as the inhabitants of the earth dream for the sun. The work begins with an invocation to the earth, a two-part theme that returns frequently throughout the remainder of the piece. The song deepens as harmony and counterpoint are added. A middle section emerges in which the strings present an "earth murmur" (the constant, breathing pulse of the earth). Over the top of this, the earth comes alive in the winds and brass. After reaching a climax, this dies away and we are left with a bare landscape, unchanging, over which fragments of the songlines are heard – hovering like the sun overhead.
Sonata for Violin and Organ, Op. 573 (2004) was commissioned by Harrison Nelson for the Gough Duo and is dedicated to Rupert and Rachel Gough who gave the première in November 2004 at St John's, Smith Square in London. The first movement, Telescope, begins with a lyrical but wide-ranging violin melody, played over an organ pedal-point. Throughout this movement, this melody is "telescoped" and builds to a climax. Finally, it returns to its original state for a reposed conclusion. The second movement, Ballade for Max, is dedicated to British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. It is a series of simple songs which are developed over passacaglia-like harmonic progressions. The third movement, Keep on Shining!, shows influences from American folk and gospel music. The basic building block of the movement is a recurring "gospel refrain" which continues to interject itself. Materials from the first and second movement are transformed and appear in new guises. The movement is energetic and driving and leads the work to a joyous conclusion.
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COOMAN: Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 / Violin Sonata