The Classical Reviewer

I have previously reviewed two very fine discs of organ works by the American composer Carson Cooman (b. 1982) released by Divine Art Recordings. Now from Divine Art Diversions comes a very enticing mini-album featuring two orchestral works by this composer including his Symphony No. 4 . The Slovak National Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Kirk Trevor.

This new disc opens with Shoreline Rune (2014) for string orchestra and harp, dedicated to the composer Judith Weir on her 60 th birthday. One is invited to imagine standing on the shore watching an entire tide cycle compressed into the five minute duration of the work. The piece opens impressively with deep rich sonorities before a theme arises. In the quieter moments that follow there is an intense feeling of brooding with sudden little outbursts subtly pointed up by the harp as the music moves slowly ahead. There are moments of intense, static wonder as the coda is reached. Kirk Trevor directs the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra in a beautifully controlled performance.

Symphony No. 4, ‘Liminal’ (2014) for orchestra is scored for brass, two harps and strings. It addresses the issue of climate change with the subtitle ‘Liminal’ taken from the Latin word for threshold as well as its use when describing rituals and processes.

Harp strums are heard against a hushed deep orchestral background as the music slowly tries to heave itself up. Various instruments including a cello and brass appear out of the mists with lovely points of colour and brightness from the two harps even though they register a dissonance due to their ¼ tone difference in tuning. Little pizzicato string phrases appear over the gentle brass before the music slowly increases in dynamics until cut off with soft harp arpeggios. The orchestra swirls around in while brass bring fine details in this distinctively orchestrated music. Soon a rhythmic pulse appears in the basses over which strings hold a chord and the harps bring flourishes with brass intoning. The brass break out dynamic phrases as the music becomes more dramatic. Yet the harps soon bring back the misty aura with hushed strings and brass quietly sounding. The harps play a three note motif as the strings weave in the mists, the harps bringing that dissonance, a pull on one’s senses showing all is not well.

There are drooping phrases from the violins as a bass tuba intones, then a trumpet creating an air of unsettling menace. The brass break out again leading to a fast, rhythmic string passage around which the harps revolve, their tuning adding an edge. Soon the whole orchestra sounds out through the repeated violin motif with harps arpeggios. This is a really terrific moment.

Brass join the harps to add even more edgy harmonies before the music rises to another climax for orchestra over a repeated violin motif. Eventually repose is found where one harp plays a gentle tune over dissonant higher strings that gently rise and fall. Brass join adding a rather melancholy feel with the single harp and upper strings seeming to find a gentle resolution over which a trumpet plays quietly. But as the upper strings hold a long gentle chord the two harps enter to bring a final questioning phrase. Is this really a resolution? Like the problem of climate change, we do not know.

This is a very fine work indeed, beautifully played by the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra under Kirk Trevor. They are finely recorded at the Slovak Radio Studio, Bratislava.

This fine new disc concludes with one of Carson Cooman’s organ works, Prism (2003) played by Erik Simmons, the very fine soloist on the two previous Carson Cooman organ discs from Divine Art.

The piece opens quietly on a single chord to which a pedal is added, slowly broadening with a descending motif. A gentle melody moves ahead, underscored by a deep pedal line and providing the perfect postlude to the symphony. The music builds some fine textures with Cooman showing what a master composer he is for the organ, before leading to a long held chord to end peacefully, calmly and gently.

This is an impressive line-up of works that receive excellent recordings. There are useful booklet notes from the composer.

Described by Divine Art as a mini album this 36 minute disc is available at mid-price (UK £8.50) (US $12.99).

—Bruce Reader