Fanfare

Recently in [Fanfare 37:3] I gave a mixed review to a CD of works by Carson Cooman, with one comment in that review leading to an opposing exchange of views between the composer and myself in the “Critics’ Corner” section of [issue 37:5]. Apparently chief editor Joel Flegler likes for his reviewers to live dangerously; for on almost the same day as that exchange went to press, the present disc appeared in my mailbox. (Or, it may be simply because I am one of the very few Fanfare reviewers at present who takes on organ repertoire.) In any case, no need for fear, as I found the contents of this disc to be quite delightful. Among his dizzying array of activities Cooman is also an organist, and so this is very much his home ground. He obviously loves his instrument and its resources, and that shows in the results offered here.

Overall, though not uniformly, the strongest stylistic influence on Cooman would appear to be the early 20th-century French school of figures such as Dupré, Duruflé, Langlais, and Tournemire. Among the exceptions, the Preludio on a Swedish Tune has an opening strikingly similar to Bach’s celebrated chorale Nun freuet euch, BWV 734, while Joysong (composed for a wedding) and the opening movement of the sonatina pleasingly evoke a Renaissance positif organ and the dance music of that period. Several of the works – the Sonata da chiesa, Preludio, Ricercare, Fanfare, Remembering – freely draw upon existing hymn tunes and medieval plainchant motifs. As their titles suggest, the Litany, the “Prelude” and “Offertory” movements of the Sonata da chiesa, and also the Ricercare, Prelude, Remembering, and Berceuse, are slow in tempo and quiet and contemplative in mood, as are also the central movement of the Sonatina No. 1 (“Pibroch”) and the first two move­ments of the Suite breve (“Variations” and “Pastorale”). The other pieces – the Toccata, Preludio, Fanfare, and Joysong, the “Postlude” of the Sonata da chiesa, the outer movements (“Divertissement” and “Carillon-Ostinato”) of the sonatina, and the concluding “Sortie” of the Suite breve – are brisker and more extroverted, variously fleet and sprightly (with running triplet or 16th-note figurations in the accompaniments) or more martial and muscular in their energy.

All the pieces on this album are of short duration; the two longest, the Sonata da chiesa and the Suite breve, are the only two to time out at more than seven minutes, and both of those (plus the Sonatina No. 1) have three separate movements. The opening Toccata festiva is the only piece that does not catch my fancy, perhaps due in part to the chosen registration; cast in A-B-A form, the outer sections with their rapidly running repeated triplet figures sound rather risibly like a spastic accordion. Otherwise, organist Erik Simmons is an effective advocate for all of the works featured here. I do have some reservations about the instrument, the main organ of the Laurenskerk in Rotterdam. A modern neo-Baroque instrument built in 1973 to replace a 16th-century one destroyed in the Nazi aerial obliteration of that city in May 1940, it boasts of being “the largest entirely mechanical action instrument in Europe.” To my ears, however, it sounds like a genuine Baroque organ subjected to a degree of disagreeable modern electronic filtering. However, that is likely a subjective reaction which others listeners may not share.

None of the works here is strikingly individual or original; but, as I have previously noted in these pages, originality pursued as an end in itself necessarily leads to perverse affectation. The proper question to raise is not “Is this piece original?” but “Is this piece good?” Here, in an assortment of occasional works in the best sense of that term, Cooman as a skilled compositional craftsman has given us, in a conservatively tonal idiom, good works (pun intended) that are both pleasing and serviceable. To both organists looking to expand their repertoires of music for church services, and to fanciers of contemporary organ music seeking to add something novel to their collections, this CD is cordially recommended.

—James A. Altena