The Music of Michael Cohen
Songs for Silenced Voices Sandra Simon, soprano. Panoramicos Anna Kistlitsyna, piano; Sirius String Quartet; Samantha Britt, soprano. Elenora Pertz, piano. Fischer Duo: Norman Fischer, cello. Jeanne Fischer, piano. Navona 6405 Total Time: 54:27 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****
Composer Michael Cohen has had a wide career that has included writing for Broadway, commercials, and even opera among a variety of other concert music. A Song for Silenced Voices presents five chamber pieces for a variety of traditional and unique settings that also reflect some of his more commercial musical styles.
I Remember (1995) does have that sense of musical theater and owes its roots to Cohen’s musical about Anne Frank, Yours, Anne. Ideas from that show are compiled into a rather impressive song cycle. There is some quite gorgeous writing here enhanced by the instrumental timbres of harp, flute(s), and cello. Heartbreaking interludes often move us into new segments of the story. It is rather a stunning piece worth the price of admission to this collection and is rightly one of Cohen’s oft-performed works.
Next up are two student pieces from 1959. One of Cohen’s teachers was Irving Fine (1914-1962) at Brandeis University and the brief piano prelude is a fairly standard ternary piece with a nice contemporary flare. It already shows a delicious blend of blues and jazz hints that would inform Cohen’s theater work later. The String Quartet from the same year is building upon the contemporary Bartok and Shostakovich quartet styles that come out of a more Neo-Classical tradition. This is something one finds in some of Fine’s music as well and Cohen’s comments about the work indicate that he modeled this project after his teacher’s work. After an agitated first movement, we move into a slower second movement that demonstrates some of Cohen’s aforementioned lyrical writing.
One of his more popular opera successes was Rappaccini’s Daughter which was premiered in 1981 and subsequently with Minnesota Opera in 1983. The aria “Just A Little Sky Away” is a moment when the primary character sees a young man and comes face to face with her loneliness.
The album concludes with a work for cello and piano. This is a rather interesting concert work that flirts with 12-tone technique and has an overall more dramatic feel. The serialism still manages to maintain a fairly tonal flirtation with the dissonances here serving to punctuate the gorgeous lines for cello. It is another of many fascinating pieces on this release. There are some peripheral connections to the same project that opened this album which makes this program have a good arc and closure.
Cohen’s music is quite engaging and the flow here from semi-popular style through his early development and more modern applications of compositional approaches allows one to appreciate his skill. At the core though, is a very fine sense of line and melodic writing that is enhanced by extended harmonic writing. This is an album of quite heartfelt music.