Alla Elana Cohen

Cinemusical Review

After a fascinating survey of Alla Elana Cohen’s chamber music last year, Ms. Cohen returns to explore music for cello and piano in this re-issue from 2010.  She is joined here by her mentoree and collaborator Sebastian Baverstam.  Earlier experiences with her work reveal a style that melds modern compositional approaches like composers such as Dutilleux and Lutoslawski into a unique and expressive style.  Her music tends to be quite engaging and expressive blending mysticism and spiritual realms.  The seven works here are split between solo cello, solo piano, and duos between the two.

First up is Book of Prayers, volume 1, series 7, the first of four works for cello and piano.  This three-movement work features some dense harmonies with a rather emphatic and dramatic solo line.  It is a decidedly more intense musical dialogue.  Interesting motivic interaction between both instruments creates this sense of argument and questioning.  Third Vigil is a reworking of a cello concerto for piano and cello.  Again here are great examples of the interactive quality of Cohen’s music where the denser harmonies of the accompaniment are altered with repeated motivic ideas that become part of the cello line.  It is another quite dense and dramatic work with exploration of harmonics and flashes of virtuosic writing for both instruments ending with a questioning sense that all is not done.  These darker colors continue into the penultimate work on the disc, Querying the Silence, volume 1, series 2.  Here over four distinct movements, Cohen continues to explore these ideas of dialogue with sound through echo and silence.  It is a rather interesting construct that shift to a lulling second movement that culminates in a more celebratory finale.  The opening cello line in the final piece, Book of Prayers, volume 2, series 4, seems somewhat similar to the lullabye-like material in the previous work, but this may simply be a coincidence.

Written for Baverstam, the Sephardic Romancero, series 2, is a virtuoso exploration of the young cellist’s technique.  The opening movement moves between bowed lyrical statements and brief percussive pizzicato techniques.  The central movement has these jagged lines moving upward and some sliding technique that adds to the almost jazz-like pizzicato moments in this fairly odd work for solo cello.

The two solo piano works on the album, Three Film Noir Pieces and Spiral Staircases, were drawn from music Cohen composed for films as part of a series at the New England Conservatory.  Different composers were tasked with providing music for a select scene.  Cohen’s first semi-improvisatory movement for the former work would be joined by two additional movements.  All are inspired from the films Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People.  The other work similarly took inspiration and dramatic impetus from The Spiral Staircase.  The spin of the music seems to take a more macabre jazz-like style and darken it with closer harmony.

For those looking for an intense hour or so of contemporary music there is much here to explore.  Cohen’s pieces have a great sense of drama coupled with these flashes of intense harmonic structures against often beautiful lyric lines.  The recordings were made in Jordan Hall at Boston’s New England Conservatory which further enhance the performances.