JAMES COHN: SYMPHONIES 3, 4 & 8
KIRK TREVOR, conductor
SLOVAK RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
World Premiere Recordings
“Cohn stands out as one of America's major living symphonists, a gentle and lyrical composer who is rarely stimulated to prolonged aggression… Cohn is a tidy and skilled orchestrator… This is yet another recording resulting from the English-born conductor Kirk Trevor's persuasive championship of new music by less familiar composers. Long may he enjoy all the support he stimulates for these worthy projects, with the hope that the Cohn symphonic cycle may well be completed under his capable baton with 1, 5 and 6 before too long.”
Patric Standford, Music & Vision [May 2013]
"This release is a pleasant surprise—while listening to the first two movements of the Symphony No. 3, the idea began to formulate itself that here is a man who isn’t out to prove anything to anybody. [The] Andante Comodo, is one of the most quietly lovely six minutes in existence; it’s not bashful, but neither is it assertive… Cohn’s writing is firmly grounded in tonality, but not without harmonic sass… Other reviewers have noted everything from jazz to serialism, and jazz does make an appearance in some of the Miniatures, an orchestration of a piano set from 1954… The sound is excellent…Here’s an American composer worth becoming friends with.”
Estep, American Record Guide [March/April 2013]
“[a] generously filled disc… From the outset of [Cohn’s Symphony No. 3 ] the listener is engaged by Cohn’s appealing lyricism, as a solo clarinet spins out a simple melody over a pianissimo roll in the timpani. The melodic line is developed in various ways as other instruments take it over in a variety of forms (for example, the strings with interjections from the woodwinds). The composer’s use of modest forces (five woodwinds, three brass, and two percussion) doesn’t seem to limit his palette in the least, and indeed, he has used the same instrumentation in all of his subsequent orchestral works. This symphony reminds me a bit of another symphony in G Minor, that of English composer E. J. Moeran. Indeed there is something in Cohn’s symphony that evokes the pastoral music of many English composers. The symphony contains a scherzo in 5/8 meter, but this scherzo is of a gentle nature, and nothing like the in-your-face approach of, say, Shostakovich. The drama is ratcheted up a notch or two in the finale.
The Nine Miniatures began its life as a set of piano pieces …The style of the individual pieces contrasts a good bit between one movement and the next… These are all exceedingly tuneful pieces, and would work as effectively on a pops concert as they do in a more symphonic setting.
Cohn’s Fourth Symphony might be considered his “Leningrad” Symphony as it was written in response to the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, [and] is consequently somewhat less tonally centered than its predecessor... As expected, martial rhythms and sonorities are prominent throughout, but the symphony has its lyrical side as well. Through the course of the work, the composer has attempted to depict the hopes and optimism of the people who were living through these tragic events, and the crushing military finale that ultimately confronted them. In this, he succeeds very well, although the work can be thoroughly enjoyed without any knowledge as to the events that inspired it.
The Symphony No. 8 begins with the rhythmic drive that characterizes the music of Martinů. From its outset, it is shot through with vital life-affirming energy that immediately uplifts the listener. It would seem well-nigh impossible to be depressed while listening to this work—or any of Cohn’s pieces, for that matter. In addition to its energy, the opening movement is rife with clever contrapuntal writing, helping to sustain interest throughout. [The work] seems to me to be the culminating work, not only in Cohn’s cycle of symphonies, but in all of the works of his that I’ve heard to this point. It made a profound impression on me, being the strongest among the consistently strong works in this collection.
Kirk Trevor and his Slovakian forces make a very good case for this music, with beautiful phrasing, intonation …and recorded sound. This CD will be a treasured addition to the collection of those who are still in the camp of ingratiating tonal music, and don’t care whether the music they listen to is necessarily path-breaking. That group includes this reviewer, who maintains hope that the present CD is the harbinger of a complete cycle of the symphonic output of James Cohn. In the meantime, this disc will be a Want List contender. “
David DeBoor Canfield, Fanfare Issue 36:4 [Mar/Apr 2013]
"James Cohn is a refreshing discovery. Not only is it a pleasure to discover a contemporary American composer who extolls the role of lyricism in music (“I’ve always tended to write in a melodic, rather than in a percussive way”), but it’s a plus to find someone who does it in so natural, straightforward, unpretentious a way. Still among the living at age 84 and working on new commissions even as I write, Cohn (he pronounces his name co-en) believes in writing to his listeners’ emotional, and not just intellectual needs, and he brings all the sonic resources of his orchestra to that end...
'His'' orchestra, if I may use the term, has been standard with him for more than fifty years, ever since his Third Symphony (1955) heard on this program. It consists of five woodwinds, three brass, two percussionists, and a minimum of fifteen strings, with the understanding that more string players, if available, could be added to each part. Within these limitations, in part a reflection of the realities of musical life for the modern composer and the corresponding need to write with something other than a full 100-piece symphony orchestra in mind if one expects to be performed, Cohn has done very well for himself, as the present program bears witness. His music is immediately identifiable and accessible to listeners who have been put on a starvation diet by all the various “isms” that have come and gone in contemporary music – serialism and minimalism being the most odious.
In part, Cohn’s accessibility is a product of his ear for timbres and his unerring instinct for choosing the right instruments for what he wants to say. Orchestral musicians must simply love this guy for the way he writes to their instruments’ strengths, rather than torturing them to do the unnatural just to achieve a striking effect. Listen to the glorious clarinet melody over a kettledrum roll in the opening to Symphony No. 3, the fetchingly idiomatic use of the trumpet in the “Boogie” and “Drag” movements of his wonderful Miniatures for Orchestra, the hauntingly beautiful horn passages in the “Sunrise” and “Sunset” movements from the same work, or the fascinating dialogues in the strings in the Andante tranquillo of Symphony No. 4 (1956), and you will hear what I mean. Symphony No. 8 (1978) reveals a more concise, dramatic and turbulent element in Cohn’s music without betraying the salient qualities that I described earlier."
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [July 2012]
“James Cohn seems to be one of those American composers who goes on quietly writing much music, getting it performed on a fairly regular basis, winning awards (some prestigious), and largely going unnoticed by most music lovers. That includes me, I’m sorry to say, though from now on I’ll keep him firmly on my radar… conductor Trevor’s previous experience with Cohn’s work pays off in performances that are animated, sympathetic and engaging…. [The recorded] sound throughout is fine, the prominent percussion captured with verve and immediacy. Given the generous and varied program on offer here, this is an excellent entrée to an American composer who should be better known.”
[ * * * * ] Lee Passarella, Audiophile Audition [30 January, 2013]
was born in 1928 in Newark, New Jersey. He studied composition with Roy Harris, Wayne Barlow and Bernard Wagenaar and majored in Composition at the Juilliard School. He has written solo, chamber, choral and orchestral works, and his catalogue includes three string quartets, five piano sonatas, eight symphonies and an orchestral suite entitled The Little Circus. Several works have won awards, including a Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Prize for his Symphony No.2, and
an A.I.D.E.M. prize for his Symphony No.4, which was premiered in Florence, Italy. Paul Paray and the Detroit Symphony introduced the composer’s Symphony No.3 and Variations on the Wayfaring Stranger. His opera The Fall of the City won an Ohio University Opera Award. There have been many performances of his choral and chamber music, and worldwide use of his works commissioned for television and cinema. Major commissions include one from the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress and another, the Concerto da Camera, premiered at the the Music at Gretna (PA) Festival as the Mount Gretna Suite. Maestro Guido Six, of the Conservatory of Music in Ostend, Belgium commissioned the Caprice for Claribel, his 30-piece clarinet choir. A recent commission, The Texas Suite, was given its premiere at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in San Antonio in
2010. Maestro Six has just commissioned a new work for Claribel, to be performed at the Midwest Clarinet Conference in Chicago in 2012.
Conductor Kirk Trevor is a regular guest conductor in the world’s concert halls. Music Director of the Knoxville Symphony from 1985 until 2003, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra since 1988, and Missouri Symphony since 2000, he has forged a strong musical partnership with three of America’s leading regional orchestras. From 1995 to 1999, Trevor also served as Chief Conductor of the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic. As a guest conductor, he has appeared on the podiums of orchestras worldwide, including the London Symphony in Great Britain, and notable ensembles in Hong Kong, Canada, Israel, Spain, South America and throughout the United States. In 2000,
he forged a relationship with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra and began an extensive series of recordings. Trevor was appointed their Principal Guest Conductor in 2003, and took them on a three-week tour of Japan and numerous European cities. Born and educated in England, Kirk Trevor trained at the Guildhall School where he graduated in cello performance and conducting, and subsequently studied with Sir Adrian Boult. In 1982, he was awarded the Exxon Arts Endowment conductor position with the Dallas Symphony, and in 1990 won the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Leonard Bernstein Conducting Competition that led to performances with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center.
Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra was Slovakia’s first professional symphonic ensemble. The orchestra performs regularly in Eastern European music festivals and has toured Europe and the Far East. Founded in 1929 to serve Slovak Radio, their concerts continue to be broadcast on radio on a regular basis. Led by a long list of prominent Czech and Slovak conductors, including Ondrej Lenárd, Bystrík Režucha, Oliver von Dohnanyi and others, the SRSO has established a worldwide reputation as a recording ensemble, with hundreds of acclaimed recordings on a host of record labels. Their performance repertory includes symphonic music, operetta, and a specialty in compositions by unjustly neglected Slovak composers.
SYMPHONY NO.3 in G MINOR (1955)
I. Allegretto cantabile
II. Andante comodo
III. Scherzo: Presto ma non troppo
IV. Allegro furioso
MINIATURES FOR ORCHESTRA (1954; Orchestrated 1975)
SYMPHONY NO.4 in A MAJOR (1956)
I. Adagio - Allegro giocoso
II. Andante tranquillo - più mosso, turbato - andante tranquillo
III. Allegretto vivo - Andante tragico
SYMPHONY NO.8 in C MAJOR (1978)
I. Allegro con moto
II. Andante comodo e cantabile
III. Scherzo: Allegro scherzando
IV. Allegro con fuoco