P0898. HARRIET COHEN: The Complete Solo Studio Recordings, incl. Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Brahms, Bath, Gibbons, Bax, Debussy, de Falla, Shostakovitch & Kabalevsky. (England) 3-Appian APR 7304, recorded 1924-48. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. - 5024709173044
“Harriet Cohen was for decades a fixture in British musical life both as a pianist and celebrity. A strikingly beautiful woman, she was involved in a long series of amorous relationships with public figures, notably a long-term adulterous affair with the composer Arnold Bax. In the 1930's and ‘40s she was a prominent spokesman for European Jewry. While she toured in the United States, most of her recordings are scarce here, making this comprehensive collection of her solo and orchestral performances particularly welcome. She was, through it all, a thoroughly serious and committed, if wayward, musician. Her waywardness was itself a commitment. While she performed conventional repertoire, Harriet Cohen was first and foremost a champion of pre-classical and contemporary music. About half of this collection consists of Bach, beginning with an acoustic recording of the first concerto made with Henry Wood in 1924 and continuing with her notable 1928 recording of the first book of the WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER—exotic items at the time. Cohen’s way with Bach sounds precious to modern ears but it is pleasant enough. Her Debussy, Falla, and Bax recordings are enchanting and richly romantic. Her two most popular records, an arrangement of Bax’s score for the movie OLIVER TWIST (1948), and the ‘Cornish Rhapsody’ by Herbert Bath (1944), are treacle…..
One cannot help but respond to the music through the prism of Harriet Cohen’s character. Her performances are, not to put too fine a point on it, interesting: alert, insouciant, sensual, attractive. Writing in the 1930's, the French composer Maurice Imbert said of her, ‘The delicacy, grace, playfulness, and tenderness of her interpretations, which are, at the same time, of a most expressive power, or full of animation, of fire, of color, prove the extent of her intelligence and convince one that she has cultivated the spirit. Everything has a personal accent’. That seems about right.
APR’s production leaves little to be desired. Cohen was one of the most photographed women of her generation, and the booklet does not disappoint us. One learns from an old biography that ‘She works seven or eight hours a day, much of this work being necessary because she is such an ardent student of modern music. Her one idiosyncrasy is the collection of snuff boxes of all sizes and and shapes’. One idiosyncrasy? Given her disdain for propriety one would not be surprised to learn that she took snuff as well.”
- David Radcliffe, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2012
"Certainly the most glamorous of the Matthay students, Harriet Cohen was also the most extrovert and to the general public was known as a socialite as much as a pianist. Her friends included George Bernard Shaw and Ramsay MacDonald and she became notorious as the lover of the married Arnold Bax. Behind this apparently superficial exterior lay a surprising intellect and her repertoire favoured Bach and earlier music or contemporary music (much of it dedicated to her) rather than the more popular, and frequently played, romantic repertoire.
Few of her recordings have been reissued on CD so this will be an eagerly awaited set. It includes the first ever (acoustic) recording of Bach’s D minor concerto, and the later post-war remake, and also several of the works Bax wrote for her."
“Harriet Cohen was considered one of the finest performers of J. S. Bach’s keyboard music, winning outstanding praise from the musicologist Alfred Einstein. Pau Casals, also, invited her to play Bach with his orchestra at Barcelona, and Wilhelm Furtwängler extended a similar invitation on hearing her in Switzerland. She gave the first ‘all-Bach’ recital at the Queen’s Hall in 1925.”
“Cohen's influence went well beyond that of a musician. She became strongly associated in the 1930's with publicizing the plight of German and Austrian Jews and even played a concert with the scientist Albert Einstein (Alfred's cousin) in 1934 to raise funds to bring Jewish scientists out of Germany. She became close friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and Ramsay MacDonald as well as the first president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. Harriet Cohen met the American journalist Dorothy Thompson in 1930 on her first tour of America. Thompson and Cohen were to correspond about the plight of Jewish refugees in Austria and Germany, and Cohen was then able to pass on information from Thompson directly to the British Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who was at this time her intimate friend. From 1933 Cohen committed herself to work in Britain and the United States on behalf of refugees.
It was not until 1939 when she first met Chaim Weizmann, the future first President of Israel, that she began to support the Zionist cause and a Jewish homeland. Cohen's 1939 visit to Palestine extended her reputation there both as a concert pianist and politically. She argued with British and Jewish officials to try to get Jewish refugees admitted on ships from Nazi Germany (rather than be returned), once almost precipitating an International incident. Harriet Cohen believed passionately in a Jewish homeland but with justice to the Arab Palestinians.”
- Z. D. Akron