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Avner DORMAN (b. 1975)
Piano Works

Sonata No. 1 Classical (1998) [15.28]
Moments Musicaux (2003) [9.09]
Prelude No. 1 (1992) [4.29]
Azerbaijani Dance (2005) [6.12]
Sonata No. 2 (2001) [12.21]
Sonata No. 3 Dance Suite (2005) [14.56]
Eliran Avni (piano)
rec. Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, Massachusetts, 6-7 September 2005
NAXOS 8.579001 [62.35]

There was a time when any young composer with an eclectic language was said ‘not yet to have found his/her style’. It was very irritating not least because as an under thirty, one probably lacked self-confidence. In any case one hadn’t even a settled mode of existence let alone a firm musical voice. Well, I’m glad to day that this criticism is no longer in currency and eclecticism is not only acceptable but a successful way forward and a pointer into this new century. Witness for example Osvaldo Golijov and his recent great successes. Listen to his extraordinary international eclecticism as he uses music from all over the world as and when it suits him.
Avner Dorman although young can already be seen as an eclectic; deliberately so. This is in evidence and not only on this fascinating disc which demonstrates a wide range of music. It can also be heard in some of his other works premiered of late, for example in Tel-Aviv with his Percussion concerto. The press ‘blurb’ that was sent with the CD says it all “a young contemporary Israeli-American … this release of Avner Dorman’s works comes on the heels of recent commissions from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Jerusalem Quartet”. He has an impressive website which is worth a look, and note the amount of significant performances which he has had earlier in the year (April-May 2006).
Now he has a CD on Naxos’s interesting and very important 21st Century Classics label. In addition Dorman is lucky to have a wonderful pianist in Eliran Avni who is totally in tune with his needs, and is described, quite rightly, as a ‘rising star’.
So to the music .For some reason I didn’t at first listen to the disc in the recorded order. In the end I am rather glad about that. I started with the two ‘Moments Musicaux’ written so that the performer would concentrate on the moment and not the overall design. It’s an interesting idea, but for the listener, I feel, irrelevant. Nevertheless the work inhabits a curious world of half-tonalities and so I was drawn in, which I wouldn’t have been if I have started with the opening ‘Classical’ Piano Sonata. This is little more than a talented student work which cannot decide what it wants to be: Prokofiev, Art Tatum, Ravel, Mozart even the Modern Musical. The composer may well have second thoughts about this piece when he is little older. You might like the idea but for me it fails as does the other early work the rather dull ‘Prelude No 1’ which relies on arpeggio accompaniment under a reasonably pleasing melody.
After these teenage works things improve considerably and a true and sturdy young talent emerges.
The Azerbaijani Dances set a new trend. The composer is more his own man when he allows himself to be inspired by the music which is more associated with his own country. This virtuoso work often utilizes the 10/8 time signature, 6+4 but with other rhythmic combinations. There is also a more lyrical middle section to contrast.
The Second Sonata falls into two movements which is a very satisfactory form especially as the first movement is divided into two tempo directions. It opens as if a pianist, improvising, is sitting trying to remember a certain tune. Some emerge but it takes a while, before a faster speed begins. The second movement is inspired by the piano playing of Art Tatum, so the composer tells us; I am not so sure about that, nevertheless the whole makes for an intriguing and original interplay of ideas.
The Third Sonata subtitled ‘Dance Suite’ paints a picture of the landscape of the composer’s homeland. In addition its opening section is inspired by a blind Oud musician.(the Oud is an Arabic Lute e.g. the French L’Oud’, becomes the English Lute). The second movement is based on an Arabic ‘maqam’, which is a type of scale or mode. Various dance rhythms are also incorporated especially in the incredible finale called ‘Techno’ which uses Jazz rhythms. What is particularly striking about these two sonatas is the way in which the entire instrument is used, often melodically. The Third Sonata has passages in which a repeated, simple five note melody is heard at the bottom of the piano surrounded by cluster harmonies which are at the same pitch or just above it - all below the bass clef stave. The effect is not only incredibly percussive and exciting but also produces an effect rather like that of using quarter-tones, which is another characteristic of ‘maqam’. The recording, excellently, is able to convey these demanding pianistic effects as indeed is the piano - we are not told which make. Perhaps Avni who has written the anonymous and thorough booklet notes including his own biography.
I am often asked, after reviewing a disc, ‘will you keep it?’ Here the answer is YES. I have enjoyed my first acquaintance with Avner Dorman except for the reservation mentioned above and I want to listen again to the 2nd and 3rd sonatas and to the Dances. I am convinced that Dorman has some way to go and that he has been fortuitous in finding a sympathetic record company and a terrific pianist. I would like to hear some of the recent orchestral works. What are the chances?
Gary Higginson


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