This CD contains one work each from the 1950s ('Homage'), 1960s ('Concerto for Concertina and Strings'), and the 1970s ('A Song of the Waters'), as well as three compositions written by James Cohn during the last decade of the twentieth century. The combination of compositions and performers on this CD are so beautifully wedded that it would be hard to imagine them in the hands of others, yet one can only hope that this CD will lead to further performances and wider exposure of Mr Cohn's creative efforts.
Three works in particular have fast become personal favourites: the 'Concerto for Piano' (1995), the 'Concerto for Concertina and Strings' (1966), and the evocative orchestral piece 'A Song of the Waters' (1976). The 'Concerto for Piano' is a decidedly neo-classical work with overtones of Prokofiev and Copland. Originally scored for piano quartet in 1995, but never performed in this format, the work took on a new life as a commission for virtuoso Mirian Conti. Shifting easily between haunting melodies and fiercely contrapuntal outbursts, the first and third movements are infused with rhythmic energy; whilst the second movement has a decidedly early American jazz feel with liberal doses of warmth and humour.
'Concerto for Concertina and Strings' is a tour de force for an oft-neglected instrument, which ranks on a scale with some of the best serious compositions for piano accordion (Hovhaness, Creston, Berg, et al). Soloist Wim Wakker works his magic with Cohn's carefully constructed score and manages to leave the listener absolutely breathless, yet at the same time, the Romanza (second movement) conveys the deepest passion and longing.
Finally, 'A Song of the Waters' is a set of variations on the English folktune which was transplanted to the new world and became "Shenandoah". It is perhaps deceptive to refer to it as a set of variations, however, because it does not come across as such. Devised as a single movement tone poem, with extensive programmatic notes by the composer, the work moves fluidly between the original melody and Cohn's reinterpretations in a manner suggesting the actual movement of water. The orchestration is brilliantly satisfying, and the performance leaves one wondering why this has not yet become an Americana concert hall standard.
This album stands as a solid introduction to the works of American composer James Cohn, which will hopefully serve as a vehicle to introduce more people to his impressive catalogue of compositions.