Having received this Divine Art CD as the fifth disc I’ve encountered devoted to the organ music of my Fanfare colleague Carson Cooman, I am beginning to suspect that a good percentage of his copious output has been devoted to works for his own instrument. Past volumes have amply demonstrated the stylistic breadth that Cooman brings to his writing for the organ, and this disc continues such diversity, and utilizes the artistry of Erik Simmons, who has recorded numerous other works in Cooman’s output for organ. All but one of the works heard herein are recent, and span the years 2010-2013.
The recital opens with the stunning Toccata Festiva. Fanfare listeners know what organ toccatas sound like —almost all readers will have heard the quintessential example from Widor’s Fifth Symphony—and this toccata is well within the parameters of the genre, oriented towards the French species but, as the composer notes, employing a harmonic idiom permeated with American sonorities (mainly through filling in chords with non-chord diatonic pitches). Its optimistic spirit reflects the “Festiva” portion of its title. The following Litany forms a quiet contrast to the ebullient Toccata, and hearkens back to the American tradition of, say, Randall Thompson. It would make an excellent offertory, given its meditative quality.
With Preludio on a Swedish Tune, the listener is treated to a rather Bach-like treatment of the Swedish tune as a cantus firmus, over which a jubilant running figuration is placed. While the opening harmonic treatment could almost have been written by Bach himself, a middle section that is entirely Cooman provides a contrast before the return of the opening material closes the work. Sonata da Chiesa was written for Daniel Pinkham, and draws upon a 13th-century conductus by Perotin. The harmonic language of this work is a notch or two more advanced than that of the preceding works (I hear some hints of the music of Jehan Alain), but the introspective quality of the first two movements, and the jubilant atmosphere of the third are highly suggestive of the liturgical use implied in the title.
The contrasting styles and moods set forth in the first several works continue apace throughout the remainder of the CD, from the gentle Ricercar on Two Czech Hymns to the exquisitely sublime Prelude to the Memory of Jean Langlais, to the declamatory Fanfare for a Duchess at St. Andrew’s (based on Haydn’s tune Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken), and so on. Cooman writes as well as anyone I know writing these days for the organ. Every single note from his pen (or, more likely, computer) “works,” as its composer knows his instrument intimately. I was slightly amused to see that the longest work on the CD is entitled Suite Breve.
The organ used in the recital is a fine Danish Marcussen organ in the Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, but the best organ in the world won’t help ill-conceived registration, and Erik Simmons, apart from his technical proficiency, knows just which colors to extract from the instrument to effectively showcase the works heard here.