Arnold Rosner (1945-2013) was, in his time, an outsider; he emphatically rejected serialism in favor of Renaissance music and 20th Century romanticism. His music languished with few performances and recordings. In the years after and immediately preceding his death, an era perhaps more hospitable to serious tonal music, there has been a surge of interest in his music and several new recordings, thanks in part to the efforts of friends like Carson Cooman (b. 1982), who has recorded his music (Toccata 408, N/D 2017) and helped prepare his works for release. Here his own music is presented alongside Rosner’s.
Last issue I reviewed Rosner’s excellent opera The Chronicle of Nine (BMOP 1081, J/F 2022). In that work as well as these chamber works, he combines a neoromantic aesthetic with hallmarks of Renaissance music. Particularly evocative are his dramatic use of crossrelations and layering of several simultaneous rhythmic meters, which he called “stile ecstatico”. Both of these qualities are embodied most fully in his single-movement Piano Quintet 2 (1995); the instrumentation allows the harmonic and rhythmic effects to reach their fullest potential. There is modal writing of quiet, ancient majesty, calling to mind his heroes Vaughan Williams and Hovhaness. There is also the quintessentially 20th Century fascination with colorful—and often conflicting—interactions between voices. His Violin Sonata 2 (1972) is lighter, the work of a younger composer not yet master of his craft but already sure of his style. I is driven by a bucolic, dance-like melody, which in the darker II becomes the subject of a passacaglia. III finishes in high spirits, with touches of Ravel and Hindemith.
Quartet No. 6 (2004) is a more austere work that sees him return to the serialism he dismissed in his youth. Two 12-note rows are treated tonally, often in consonant harmonic progressions presented over a drone—creating a striking effect where dissonance shifts in and out of the picture.
Cooman’s music is new to me. He is outrageously prolific—he is not yet 40 and he has over 1400 published works! More important, this music is substantial and satisfying. It is tonal, but permits more dissonance. He is prone to follow his impulses spontaneously— that is different from Rosner’s more crafted approach. His rhapsodic piano trio Kaleidoscopic Sky (2020) is one of a large number of works inspired by the environment around Nantucket. It unfolds over a single movement, shifting thru different temporal states and harmonic colors. Much of it is darker and moodier than the title suggests. His Violin Sonata 3 (2012) is more dramatic and dissonant, with plenty of fireworks for the violin. The demands of intonation are greatest in this work; despite the welcome energy he brings to the work, Robert Atchison of the London Piano Trio does not quite meet those demands and is sometimes out of tune with the piano to the point of distraction. Otherwise, the performances of Cooman’s and Rosner’s music here are good, if not outstanding.