Raymond Cohen: Violin virtuoso celebrated for his rich tone and sensitive interpretations

Raymond Cohen was that rare jewel: a teenage musical prodigy who matured into one of the finest violinists of his generation. Able to combine a rare musical insight with remarkable resilience, he remained at the heart of British musical life for more than half a century.

The son of a local music teacher, Cohen was educated at Manchester Grammar School. While there, aged 15, his prodigious musical talents won him the Adolph Brodsky scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music, where he studied with the former leader of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Danish virtuoso Henry Holst. That same year, he also took his place in the Hallé as the youngest member in the orchestra's illustrious history.

For some years, during the summer months, and in common with other members of the orchestra, Cohen would migrate to the Fylde Coast. While there – already the youthful leader of Blackpool Symphony Orchestra – he would join the resort's North Pier Orchestra under the baton of the Hallé viola player Mons Speelman. Twice daily, this 36-piece salon orchestra, with its winning mix of popular and light classical confections, unfailingly attracted a large and loyal following.

In 1939, now back in Manchester with the Hallé Orchestra, he added considerable lustre to an already burgeoning reputation by playing three concertos – the Bach E Major, Mendelssohn and Brahms – all in one evening. However, like so many of his generation, his seemingly effortless progress was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. For six years he served as a clarinettist with the Band of the Royal Corps of Signals.

Returning to civilian life, in 1946 he won the inaugural Carl Flesch International Violin Competition. His prize was a London debut at the Stoll Theatre playing the Mendelssohn Concerto. It famously led the celebrated conductor John Barbirolli to describe him as "the most brilliantly gifted young English violinist I have heard in many a day."

Leaving Manchester to settle permanently in London, he appeared as a soloist with all the leading British orchestras of the day and for a time led the Goldsborough Orchestra. In 1959, Sir Thomas Beecham appointed him as leader of the Royal Philharmonic. Remaining in post until 1965, he later returned on numerous occasions as guest leader.

As a performer, he revelled in the unique opportunities afforded by the acquisition of a magnificent 1703 Stradivarius. His seemingly effortless delivery, unerring accuracy, warm, rich tone and sensitive interpretations endeared him to audiences worldwide. Likewise, his sense of humour, generous spirit and impeccable timing won him the high regard of colleagues.

In later years, now inhabiting a much more international landscape, he travelled widely. While still engaged in extensive orchestral, concerto and recital work, it was chamber music that increasingly came to the fore. He formed a formidable partnership with the pianist Franz Reizenstein and then with his wife, Anthya Rael; the couple were later joined by their cellist son, Robert, to form The Cohen Trio. Together, their authoritative advocacy, particularly of the more intimate offerings of Antonin Dvorak, added a new dynamic to an already richly varied discography.

He was a keen tennis player, and equally unforgiving on the snooker table; it was Cohen's breadth of intellect that helped make him such an inspiring teacher, notably at the Royal College of Music. Remaining a keen student of the musical scene, in recent years nothing irritated him more than those musicians who regularly eschewed any use of string vibrato. Typically, he was never slow in committing his views to print.

Kenneth Shenton

Raymond Hyman Cohen, violinist: born Manchester 27 July 1919; married 1953 Anthya Rael (one son, one daughter); died London 28th January 2011.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Recruitment Genius: Night Porters - Seasonal Placement

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Night Porters are required to join a family-ow...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn