MusicWeb International

Carson Cooman’s workload seems to be immense: organist and composer in residence at Harvard, writer, critic, performer – as on another recent Divine Art release1 – and consultant. One wonders how he finds the time to compose so much – over 1100 works – and such varied music.

Much of the output is for the organ: this is Erik Simmons’ fifth Cooman recording for Divine Art, with several more planned. The earlier volumes are:

Litany DDA25116
Masque DDA25127
Preludio DDA21229 (2 CDs)
Hymnus DDA25147 – available in mp3, 16- and 24-bit lossless with pdf booklet from eclassical.com

and with the Slovak National Orchestra and Kirk Trevor: Liminal DDV 24161.

The two [MusicWeb] reviews of Liminal encapsulate what I imagine will be complementary views of Cooman’s music. If I lean towards David R Dunsmore’s ‘interesting … but not original enough’ rather than John France’s more enthusiastic response, I nevertheless cannot deny the qualities which the latter finds in the music: ‘beautiful, inspiring and seductive in equal measure … charged with wonder, mystery and a deep sense of engagement with the world of nature and society’.

Of some of the pieces, such as the Advent section of A Czech Liturgical Year (track 7) I would even add ‘ethereal’. Much of the music is in this quiet vein, but Cooman does allow the organist to let rip, as in the opening Exordium and the Gregorian Diptych (track 13). On the whole this is late-evening listening with a glass of wine. I don’t mean that to sound disparaging and I shall be investigating the earlier Hymnus via eclassical.com and some of Cooman’s other music on Divine Art, Naxos, Albany and other labels via Naxos Music Library.

Erik Simmons seems to be Cooman’s chosen interpreter of his music; he certainly makes a strong case for it.

The recording, made live using the Hauptwerk system, sounds very good, especially in 24-bit format. If there is any disadvantage in using this digital virtual organ system, I didn’t find it on this recording. There’s certainly none of the downside associated with electronic organs.

The notes are brief but informative – more about the organ than the music.

I hope that I don’t seem to be damning this release with faint praise. I enjoyed hearing it and I’m sure that I shall return to it in the right mood, though it’s not an urgent recommendation. I do, however, recommend all those with access to the invaluable Naxos Music Library to try Cooman’s music out there.

1 Andreas WILLSCHER (b.1955) Symphony No.5: DDA25150. Preliminary listening from Naxos Music Library suggests that this 2006 organ symphony on the theme of St Francis preaching about poverty, in a style not unlike Cooman’s own, is well worth investigating. It’s typical of Divine Art’s pioneering work that this appears to be the first album completely devoted to Willscher’s music.

—Brian Wilson