Fanfare

The indefatigable Carson Cooman continues apace in his compositional activities, and at the rate he’s going, he may well surpass the standard of musical fecundity achieved by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Bohuslav Martinu combined. He’s been actively engaged in getting his music out to the public as well, and I applaud him for this. A piece that sits in a drawer unperformed or unrecorded might as well have never been written.

The present disc features two of his recent (2014) works for orchestra, and an older one from 2003 for solo organ. First heard is Shoreline Rune for string orchestra and harp, the latter instrument not featured in a solo capacity, but as part of the texture. The work casts a spell of mystery, and rather evokes a nocturnal fog-shrouded landscape, with the moon futilely trying to peek through the mist. Textures are thick, and the majority of the piece is given to the strings in their lower registers. Sonorities are quite tonal (more or less centered on D), but occasional dissonant chords produce a pronounced drama that the otherwise slow-moving lines would not permit.

This brief work is followed by Cooman’s Symphony No. 4, subtitled Liminal . It, too, begins with a very subdued and somber texture, even more so than that which opens Shoreline . The symphony is meant to address the topic of climate change, and not long into the piece, I heard a musical depiction of rain drops, although whether the composer intended this effect to be heard as such, I cannot say. The title, “Liminal,” hearkens back to the Latin word meaning “threshold,” and is applied here by the composer to indicate the state of flux that the earth is in (and perhaps always has been). Both of these works are quite different from anything I’ve heard from this composer (and by now, I have a good half dozen discs of his music), and make a very strong impression. Indeed, these are the most “original” (if you will) pieces I’ve heard from his pen. Part of this impression stems from his restriction of the orchestra to strings, brass (which often plays in clusters and organ-like sonorities), and two harps tuned a quartertone apart. This tuning does much to add to the mysterious atmosphere of the piece, even in the places where the microtones are not obvious (in certain places they are indeed quite evident, and very effective). Only at around the 11minute mark does the rhythmic activity pick up, but even here, the somber spirit remains, eventually leading to a close that suggests a battle between tonality and Atonality. The quiet ending with the two microtonal harps suggests a winner in this musical struggle. The symphony was commissioned by the AR trust and is dedicated to composer Augusta Read Thomas.

In keeping with the rather somber direction of this disc, the closing organ work, Prism, maintains the mystical spirit of the preceding works, and its opening even seems to flow out of the conclusion of the preceding work. Perhaps that is why it was included on the CD, as otherwise a solo organ piece might be considered somewhat out of place juxtaposed with two orchestral works. As it is, I found it a most suitable disc-mate on this mini-album (note the timing in the head-note). Organist Eric Simmons has his usual keen ear for choosing the stops most conducive to bringing Cooman’s music across. Performances by Kirk Trevor and his Slovak National Symphony Orchestra forces are also very convincing, although I did note one short passage that had less than clean ensemble playing.

Despite its brevity, this disc is well worth picking up. The three works offered here are three of my favorites among Cooman’s compositions, and of course he has offered music lovers many works from which to choose.

—David DeBoor Canfield