Carson Cooman: Nantucket Dreamingby Kirk Trevor
American composer Carson Cooman has had a phenomenally productive career, with opus numbers into the 800s by his 27th year, and he has maintained an active performance schedule as an organist, as well as being a music journalist and entrepreneur. The works on this CD, written between 2002 and 2007, are scored for a variety of forces ranging from solo to full orchestra, and all were inspired by the landscapes of Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts. Cooman's music is lyrical and tonally centered, but he usually avoids falling into easy neo-Romantic clichés. His is particularly gifted as an orchestrator, and his works are full of delightful colors and inventive effects that he integrates with complete naturalness. In spite of the fact that each of these pieces, many of which have in their titles locations on the island, is linked to a particular landscape or experience, sometimes with programmatic specificity, they are fully successful as abstract music. Particularly effective are "Miacomet Dreaming for orchestra" and "Shawkemo Dreaming for strings," brief tone poems with a bittersweet, evocative character, a specialty of Cooman's. The "Quintet for bassoon and strings" is especially attractive, with a striking opening, in which the strings create a dense, harmonic fog out of which the bassoon solo emerges with the clarity of a lighthouse beacon. "Madaket Dreaming" is a lovely, wistful nocturne for solo piano. The strongest piece may be the "Lyric Trio," a compelling, disciplined six-movement work for trumpet, cello, and piano that the composer describes as an "American Travelogue." The performances by a variety of European orchestras and ensembles and American soloists are uniformly top-notch: polished, sensitive, and energetic. The recordings were made in various venues so the sound somewhat varies from piece to piece, but it is never less than excellent in its clarity and presence.
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- Naxos American
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The Naxos American Classics series has introduced me to so many new voices in American music, and this new entry is certainly welcome. Though I appreciated an earlier Naxos disc containing two of his symphonies (8.559329 from 2007), I think the more rhapsodic style of the pieces on this new disc are a better fit for Cooman's considerable composition skills. The common thread that ties together most of these works is "dreaming", and Cooman's dreams are translated into sound in a most appealing way. The composer's inspirations for this music, explained in his admirable liner notes, come from a variety of sources: the natural and built landscapes and histories of special places; interesting meteorological effects; and in one case (Miacomet Dreaming), an oil painting by Loretta Yoder (though not the Yoder painting featured on the CD cover). Most interestingly, he builds landscape changes into two of the most interesting works on the disc. In Sankaty Dreaming (String Quartet #4), Cooman tells a story of nature reclaiming a landscape. It's a stirring story that ends on a elegaic note. Cooman calls Flying Machine "workshop/construction" music. This clever piece is about the shifts in perspective that result in different ways of looking at a landscape. All in all, this music tells a story about the world around the composer. It's a much more dynamic story than the more static pastoral tradition of 20th century British music, so perhaps it's more typically American. This music is about dreams, but it's not all dreamy!