in: Reviews

March 29, 2011

Cooman Noontime Recital at Busch Hall

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Carson Cooman at the Flentrop (BMInt staff photo)

Carson Cooman, composer in residence at the Memorial Church, Harvard University, played for the Thursday 12:15 p.m. recital at Adolphus Busch Hall on March 24 on the famous three-manual tracker organ built by Flentrop in 1958 for E. Power Biggs.  An interesting discussion of that influential instrument may be found here.

The program was fascinating—all contemporary music, including two world premieres commissioned by the performer.  In his prefatory remarks, Cooman explained that the first two pieces were written for small organs. That, he explained, would encourage him to register lightly so that the audience could hear individual stops more distinctly than with the thicker registrations normally employed. What we heard of the beautiful and characteristic individual voices of the Flentrop pleased us very much. The voicing and tuning were even and exemplary.

The program opened with  Sonatina, commissioned in 2010 and composed by Christopher Uehlein, who hails from Indianapolis, Indiana. The first movement of three features harmony in fourths, as does the quieter second movement in the Lydian mode. A particularly attractive reed stop(s) typified the gentle melody. Allegro non troppo was the marking in the toccata-like finale.

One and a Half Preludes by Japanese composer Jo Kondo was next. The composer has written about his music: “Each sound must have its own entity and life. What I am doing in my compositions to create a web of inter-tonal relationships, while trying to safeguard the possibility of aurally perceiving the individual entity and life of every single tone in that relationship.” That said, this was the weakest part of this recital — angular and without any lyrical qualities.

Following this was a work by the Englishman Douglas Bell — who has the distinction of once having pursued a cricket career. He was represented by his eight colorful variations on a modal theme, Variations: The Bower.

The recital concluded with another Englishman’s piece: Adrian Self’s 1996 composition Two Pieces, Wortham’s Dumpe and Maggie’s Toye. The titles refer to Renaissance forms, the “dumpe” was poignant  (and featured open fifths), whereas the “toye” is lively. Both were played excellently by Cooman.

It’s a pity that Cooman did not perform any of his own works, but his compositions and commissioning activities have been remarked upon three times in these pages: here, here and here. His anthem (Opus 740!) will be sung at the memorial service for the late Rev. Peter Gomes on April 6.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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