Friday 14 March 2014

Erik Simmons reveals many little details and textures in his recording of some beguiling organ works by Carson Cooman on a new release from Divine Art

The problem with so many organ recital discs is that they often provide spectacular sounds that, after repeated listening seem merely bombast. Those recordings that feature gentler pieces can often be quite bland. 

Now comes an organ recording from Divine Art Recordings  of works by American composer Carson Cooman that is none of these things.

dda 25116
Entitled ‘Litany’ it features twelve of Cooman’s organ works dating from 1999 to 2013 all played by organist Erik Simmons on the main Marcussen and Son organ of Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, Netherlands built in 1973, an organ that is neo-baroque in design and completely mechanical in all respects.

Carson Cooman (b.1982) studied with Bernard Rands (b.1934) , Judith Weir (b.1954) , Alan Fletcher, and James Willey (b.1939). As an active concert organist, Cooman specializes in the performance of contemporary music. With a catalogue of hundreds of works in many forms, from solo instrumental pieces to operas, and from orchestral works to hymn tunes, his music has been performed on all six continents in venues that range from the stage of Carnegie Hall to the basket of a hot air balloon.  

Cooman is also a writer on musical subjects, producing articles and reviews for a number of international publications. His work appears on over forty recordings, including twenty complete CDs on the Naxos, Albany, Artek, Gothic, Altarus, MSR Classics, Raven, and Zimbel labels. Divine Art and Métier have already released recordings of Cooman’s chamber music (Metier MSV 28538) and orchestral music (Divine Art DDA 25117).

An insistent toccata motif underpins an overarching theme in Toccata Festiva, Op.921 (2011). There is a striking chordal, central section before a fugal development before the opening toccata motif returns leading to the decisive coda.

Litany, Op.992 (2012), the work that gives the title of the disc, provides a contrast with its gentle opening and some beautifully worked out development of the theme. After rising to a number of gentle climaxes with some lovely layering of textures, there is a beautifully hushed section. Erik Simmons brings out all the lovely timbres of this organ.

A bright and jolly Preludio on a Swedish Tune, Op.1002 (2013) follows with the main theme played over a repeated motif and varied in a most entertaining manner.

Sonata da Chiesa, Op.140 (1999, rev. 2001) opens with a haunting Prelude that has an effective and simple little tune beautifully harmonised, often dissonant. The Offertory has a repeated bass motif beneath the melody, creating a gently rocking effect which is quite hypnotic. The lively Postlude rises up gently into a light textured toccata.

Ricercare on Two Czech Hymns, Op.993 (2012) reveals a stately theme that is gently developed and harmonised before a second tune appears, fitting so well. When the opening theme re-appears the two tunes are woven. It is Cooman’s ability to create such variety that makes this piece so appealing, especially as played by Simmons.

A rising three note motif opens Prelude a la memoire de Jean Langlais, Op. 1004 before being embellished by a rising and falling theme and developed. Soon there are lovely textures developed often over a repeated motif. It is a repeated three note motif that underpins the beautiful coda.

Fanfare for a Duchess at St. Andrews, Op.1006 (2013) is a beautifully crafted piece with the underlying theme of Haydn’s Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser used by 18th-century English hymn writer, John Newton, for the well-known hymn Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken revealed in various guises and raising this Fanfare to the level of a remarkably fine piece for all occasions.

With Remembering, Op.981 (2012) a gentle relaxed descending motif develops with richer variations with some lovely light textures and an exquisite coda.

Joysong, Op.1003 (2013) is just that, a joyous, spring like evocation written on the occasion of a wedding and full of life, happiness and beautifully rich textures too.

The Divertissement of the Sonatina No.1, Op.991 (2012) is light and buoyant with some beautifully written in staccato phrases. An absolute joy. Pibroch opens with deep pedal notes before a melody with a definite Scotch snap appears, the pedal notes acting as a kind of drone. The melody is developed with an attractive weaving of the theme in this terrific little piece.

Carillon – ostinato lightens the texture whilst rapidly moving to its conclusion with an attractive little melody over the ostinato motif.

The gentle exquisite little Berceause, Op.846 (2010) is in the form of a lullaby and written for the child of a fellow organist who gave the premiere.

The opening movement of Suite Breve, Op.894 (2010), Variations, is in the form of a theme and five variations. An attractive, fast flowing yet gentle theme is subjected to many variations in rhythm, texture and colour by extremely judicious use of registration. The theme returns at the end with a brief coda. Pastorale opens with a steady tread in the bass but soon becomes livelier and light textured before the two themes are combined. Glorious chords open the scintillating finale of this suite, Sortie, with Erik Simmons showing off the Marcussen organ of Laurenskerk, Rotterdam, Netherlands to full effect before three massive chords end the work.

It is good to hear works for organ so sensitively written and beguiling to the ear. There are some real gems of the organ literature on this appealing recording. Erik Simmons is a fine organist who reveals all the little details and textures of these pieces. The recording is first rate.

As usual with Divine Art productions, the booklet is beautifully produced with excellent booklet notes complete with organ specification.

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