“Cohen’s music is filled with vibrant melody, rhythmic clarity, drive and compositional construction that show a mastery of and a real sympathy towards the clarinet…This is a sheer delight to hear, a chocolate-fudge sundae of excellently intertwining musical syntax. Three cheers for this one.”
Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
Sea of Reeds is a celebration of the clarinet — Cohen’s compositions explore this instrument’s colorful personality with his particular combination of classical, Jewish, and jazz influences.
According to composer Gerald Cohen, “I love the clarinet for its wide variety of character and dynamics, and its ability to either blend beautifully with other instruments or to stand out in a crowd.” Through this affinity, the composer offers new compositions featuring the clarinet in various trio settings on his debut Navona Records release, SEA OF REEDS.
The performers on the album are the dynamic young members of the Grneta Ensemble (Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski, clarinets, and Alexandra Joan, piano), together with the superb string players Jennifer Choi and Maria Lambros. The three members of the Grneta Ensemble share an Eastern European heritage and a love of folk and improvised music, and have been particularly devoted to Cohen’s chamber music.
Variously Blue is a vibrant group of variations on a 12-bar blues pattern, highlighting an interplay between jazz and concert music; the title collection Sea of Reeds arranges five of Cohen’s Jewish vocal works, turning them into virtuosic clarinet showpieces. Yedid Nefesh, based on a delicate Sephardic song, explores both meditative and exuberant aspects of that melody, while the wide-ranging variations of Grneta Variations take advantage of the wonderful virtuosity and unique musical personalities of the three musicians of the Grneta Ensemble.
“Yedid Nefesh” is based on a simple, sweet Sephardic setting of a mystical Jewish poem. Together, the three [performers] bring to life the piece’s rich tone and vibrant colors, highlighting both the vivacious and the meditative aspects of the delicate melody. Though each piece on “Sea of Reeds” has its own distinct character and style, Cohen’s gorgeous lyricism flows sweetly through each of them, tying together his exploration of the clarinet’s many diverse colors and dynamics.
First meeting with Cohen’s music and a rewarding experience overall…The initial “Variously Blue” and the poignant “Slow, Still, Tranquil” (the latter from the Yedid Nefesh cycle) are this writer’s preferred episodes, a number of unheralded turns and a range of adroitly organized contrapuntal climates interpreted by impeccable performers utterly involved with the material. When “harmonious virtuosity” rhymes with “moderation”, that’s OK with me.
Three cheers to Navona Records for capturing these performances and sending them out into the world…[In “Yedid Nefesh”], Cohen’s imagination, sense of balance and contrast are expertly employed, making this work a truly cohesive whole and the highlight of the recording. “Grneta Variations” continues to demonstrate just how good Cohen is at taking a germ of an idea and expanding it into a varied, logical journey into fine art and personal meaning.
This impeccably recorded album features music that is smart, reflective, pensive, and ultimately very melodic. Cohen is obviously a man who loves making music and his passion shines through clearly on each and every track. This one will most certainly stand the test of time.
Cohen’s music is filled with vibrant melody, rhythmic clarity, drive and compositional construction that show a mastery of and a real sympathy towards the clarinet…This is a sheer delight to hear, a chocolate-fudge sundae of excellently intertwining musical syntax. Three cheers for this one.
The playing, by the Grneta Ensemble (clarinetists Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski and pianist Alexandra Joan) with violinist Jennifer Choi and violist Maria Lambros, is outstanding–one of the virtues of Cohen’s music is how well the instruments sound and how flattering it is to the players. Navona’s recorded sound is lucid and warm. Most listeners will find something to like here, and more than a few clarinetists will find something they will want to play.
“Gerald Cohen has been going from strength to strength for years, and this album of recent pieces for clarinet and other instruments shows just how powerful, how structurally tight, and at the same time how free and gracious his music has become. The two sets of variations are riveting, albeit in completely different ways, and the suite of Hebrew songs reminds us yet again that Cohen is one of the great melodists of our time (anyone who can hear “Y’varech’cha” or “Adonai Ro’i” without being deeply moved is unmusical and has no heart). But the real news here is Yedid Nefesh, one of the finest pieces Cohen has ever written, and one that I have played again and again, with ever-increasing pleasure. Everything on the disc is beautifully played, but there is something truly breathtaking about the combination of clarinet, viola, and piano in Yedid Nefesh that I suspect I shall never forget.”
Director of Music at Oxford University Press (USA) (retired)
“The characterization of music as “accessible” often may contain pejorative implications. That is certainly not the case with this most impressive collection of works by Gerald Cohen in his recently released CD, Sea of Reeds. The list of adjectives to describe the music on this disc is long and varied. A partial list would include engaging, energetic, melodic, rhythmically vital, virtuosic, haunting, humorous. This appealing music, containing elements of klezmer and jazz, is decidedly modern with its imaginative harmonic use and dynamic rhythms. Cohen is fortunate to have his inventive compositions marvelously executed by an ensemble of superb musicians.”
F. Gerard Errante, clarinetist
past president of the International Clarinet Association