This album of sonatas and chamber music by James Cohn opens with the delightful 'Little Overture for Wind Quartet' (1982). Although Cohn writes with a tonal voice, this certainly doesn't mean that his music lacks interest for today's listeners. In a little over three minutes, this opening piece employs contrapuntal and minimalistic elements in contrast with moments of melodic beauty which leave the listener earnestly wishing for more. The CD is bookended with a piece scored for three treble instruments entitled 'The Goldfinch Variations'. Observing all the rules of a set of classical variations, Cohn has carefully constructed a charming neoclassic work which has endless tonal possibilities, depending upon the instrumental combination chosen by the performers.
'Sonatina for Clarinet and Piano' features a performance by Jon Manasse whose name often appears in connexion with works by Cohn. The work has a decidedly French feel to it and is reminiscent of the works of Poulenc. Make no mistake, however, this is Cohn's oeuvre, and although his influences may show, the work he has created is clearly his own. The Andante gives Cohn the chance to display his finely-honed melodic gifts in his writing for the clarinet, offset by carefully scored dissonances in the piano. The third movement alternates chromaticism with soaring melodies in a light and humourous Allegretto scherzando.
The 'Sonata Romantica' for double bass and piano and the 'Sonata Robusta' for bassoon and piano, are both welcome additions to the repertoire for these often neglected instruments (the double bass especially so). Cohn's gift for orchestration is especially evident when scoring for soloist and accompanist; through his writing he is able to coax the most imaginative and colourful performances, whilst using the entire range of the instrument.
'Quintet for Winds' from 1981 is a re-working of an earlier string quartet, and having heard this powerful rendition, it would be difficult to return to a version for strings. Cohn writes economically, effectively and idiomatically for each instrument, and it is this piece which shows his trademark conversational style the most clearly on this album. This CD is a treasure trove for the chamber music enthusiast, and a wonderful introduction to the more intimate side of James Cohn's compositions.