The Seventh Symphony by Newark-born James Cohn – and for that
matter the Second - is in four movements. The first of these is
busily insistent and has about it a touch or two of Hindemith
and Prokofiev as does the piping hot finale which suggests the
influence of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. The Allegro
cantabile is an exercise in pastoral calm – a rustic cross
between his teacher Roy Harris and Copland and RVW. The salty
Piston-like grotesquerie of the third movement is amusingly disquieting.
The Second Symphony
is a later student work written while he was studying with Bernard
Wagenaar as a Juilliard graduation piece. The piece won a Queen
Elisabeth of the Belgians Prize. Its first movement charms with
grace but enlivens with a hard-jawed urgency. Bartók’s concerto
returns in echo in the second movement and also in the busy
originality and carhorn blurt, blare and military brashness
of the finale. Serial procedures inhabit the third movement
but as ever this is accomplished with great textural transparency.
The Variations on
‘The Wayfaring Stranger’ deftly explores the country
pastoral and is initiated by a long-winding cor anglais solo.
The piece is cut from the same misty serenity as Vaughan Williams’
Dives and Lazarus and Moeran’s rhapsodies yet with a
distinct Percy Grainger lilt. The Variation were premiered
by Paul Paray with the Detroit Symphony who had also introduced
Cohn’s Symphony No. 3 to the public.
The little Waltz
in D sidles and nudges its way into the memory. It merits a
place next to the eruptive Grand Era dances in Barber’s Souvenirs
and just ever so slightly recalling Ravel’s La Valse
– just with less impressionistic miasma.
The recording is
as clear as a bell and the orchestra puts the music across well
allowing for a suggestion of shrillness in the violins. The
woodwind own a direct presence and appear to lean in towards
One is certainly
left intrigued to hear the remaining six symphonies. In addition
there are three string quartets and five piano sonatas. Among
much else there is also an opera, The Fall of the City
premièred in Athens, Ohio, after winning the Ohio University
Cohn reviews on MusicWeb International