Fanfare

In keeping with the composer’s own methodology, the title above omits the opus numbers for these works (the listing on the disc only gives years of composition); but the opus numbers themselves easily reach past op. 1000, which gives an idea of the extent of Cooman’s output. Born as recently as 1982, Cooman is not only a composer but also an organist and a musical commentator. His vast output is obviously the result of someone with real musical felicity. My colleague Robert Carl reviewed the Naxos disc of Cooman’s Second and Third Symphonies, the nine minute Piano Concerto plus sundry other pieces in Fanfare 31:3, appreciating the composer’s strengths of clear expression. An MSR disc of Cooman’s music (catalog number 1387) made it into David DeBoor Canfield’s Wants List of 2011; Canfield also reviewed the previous Divine Art release of Cooman’s organ music on Divine Art (a twofer, 21229) as recently as Fanfare 40:3. As readers will doubtless be screaming for me to point out by now, Carson Cooman is also a reviewer for Fanfare magazine.

It has been a pleasure not only to audition this disc multiple times but also to hear other music by this composer: his short (10minute) Second Symphony is particularly rewarding (from the Naxos disc mentioned above.) Here is 66 minutes of organ delight. Cooman’s range of harmonic palette is wide. Many of his pieces on this disc were written in memory of particular people, and Cooman usually links the piece in some specific way with the immortalized person.

The performances here are stunning in their grasp of the musical material. It’s a good choice to start with the 1999 piece Haec aeterna (op. 118). The work opens with a deep bass pedal ushering in the slow moving harmonic progressions. Based on the well known hymn tune The Old Hundredth, the piece invokes timelessness in the manner of Messiaen. Similar, if a touch more direct, is Arioso of 2013. In contrast the Festive Processional of 2004 (op. 566), a traditional “trumpet processional,” is bright, positive and catchy. The tune will stick around in your mind for a while afterwards.

There is infinite tenderness to the Pavane for a Duchess at St Andrew’s (2014, op. 1070). Another in memoriam, it is deliciously lachrymose and exudes the dignified gait of the Pavane form itself. Taking inspiration from Medieval music, Planctus IV (op. 1071, 2014) commemorates the life of Austrian composer Elodie Lauten (1950–2014); a “planctus” is a song of lament, and that’s certainly what is on offer here. The imaginative use of organ timbre is particularly involving here.

Inspired by the bittersweet nature of some Scandinavian music, the Two Elegiac Pieces (op. 1078, 2014) seem to imply an ancient Otherworld, particularly the first with its marking Moderato rubato (the rubato in this slow moving context obfuscates any underlying pulse, giving a decidedly floating aspect to the music). If anything, the second piece is even more interior; if an organ can whisper secrets in your ear, then that is what it does here.

Another aspect of Cooman’s output comes across in the Prelude in Copper (op. 1060, 2014). Brighter in aspect, the treble positively glistens. Although another “in memoriam,” it holds contained joy. The person it was written to commemorate was a metallurgist and a leading expert on copper, hence the title; the violinistic gestures of the melody are to reflect that person’s admiration for the violin. If the Chorale semplice (in memoriam James Pressler), op. 1054, of 2014 returns to Cooman’s interior style, the Folk Prelude on “Azmon” (Azmon being a hymn tune) is delightful, pointing out the folk nature of the melody while retaining respect for the original.

The Aria quasi una ciaccona (op. 1044, 2013) has especial resonance here as it was written in memory of the mother of the present organist, Erik Simmons, on her passing in 2013.
A chaconne bass provides the backing for a slowly uncurling melody in a piece of transcendental calm and peace. There is an interior glow to the work that seems to mark this as a particularly special specimen of Cooman’s output.

While the Partita semplice (op. 1123, 2015) is cast in seven movements, those movements are all short (the total duration is just over six minutes). The result is a musical tapestry unified by its variation core. The variations are on the initial chorale; the result is a miracle of concision and variety. The dancelike movement is particularly charming.

Dedicated to the German organist Peter Bares, the Three Enigmas (op. 1110, 2015) are quizzical, bordering on the quirky, yet slow throughout, a contradiction perhaps reflected by the title. The Prelude on “Dix” (op. 852, 2009) takes a hymn tune with the text “For the beauty of the Earth,” reflecting the work’s dedicatee’s love of Nature. Although no devotee of hymnody myself, personally I found this piece incredibly touching in its affectionate handling of the hymn tune.

Dedicated to a group of people (the staff of C. B. Fisk Inc., organ builders) Hymnus also celebrates the 30th anniversary of Fisk’s passing. Written in 2013 (and identified as op. 1036) this lovely, dreamy piece closes in a space of tranquility. Finally, Diptych of the same year (op. 1007) is a reflecting “aria serena,” followed by a significantly more outgoing, not to mention joyous, “rondo festivo.” Just like the first track, it is expertly chosen to lead the listener into Cooman’s world, so this final offering acts as a joyous celebration of his output.

The recording (on the organ of Saint Peter and Paul, Weissenau, Germany) is superb. Cooman and Simmons are credited as coproducers of this disc, and it is difficult to imagine a more satisfying result. Wholeheartedly recommended.

—Colin Clarke