Avner DORMAN (b.1975)
Mandolin Concerto (2006) [17:04]
Piccolo Concerto (2001) [15:44]
Concerto Grosso (2003) [14:20]
Piano Concerto in A (1995) [15:19]
Avi Avital (mandolin), Mindy Kaufman (piccolo), Eliran Avni (piano), Arnaud Sussmann (violin), Lily Francis (violin), Eric Nowlin (viola), Michal Korman (cello), Aya Hamada (harpsichord), Metropolis Ensemble/Andrew Cyr
rec. October 2007, SUNY Purchase College, Purchase NY, USA
NAXOS 8.559620 [62:27]


My first encounter with the music of Avner Dorman was by pure chance: in a local library I saw a disc of his piano works played by Eliran Avni (also on Naxos). After listening I thought: “Wow! I wonder how he does orchestral.” Then I had the exquisite pleasure of hearing live his concerto for percussion and orchestra Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! – and was conquered by its exuberance, beauty and richness of musical invention. And then I thought: “Wow again! But maybe it is a one-time success?” The present disc confirms: Avner Dorman is indeed a bright star in today’s musical sky. He can do it. He just can. His music is not cheap or derivative, and it only gives more pleasure with each new hearing.

The disc contains four concertos, all Baroque-inspired, though this inspiration is expressed in different ways. The opening Mandolin Concerto is probably the most striking of the four, something like Schnittke-meets-Piazzolla in the middle of a Vivaldi Winter. The idea behind it, as the composer writes in the liner-notes, was to explore the conflict between motion and stasis, as expressed, for instance, in the basic mandolin technique – the tremolo. In the first movement, slow meditative episodes lead to stormy, Vivaldian outbursts. The last episode is hauntingly beautiful: a poignant, aristocratic melody worthy of Piazzolla takes slow and sad steps, while high above the strings create the lightest of veils, like an aurora borealis.

The second movement is energetic and busy, with Middle-Eastern motifs and harmonies. The mandolin, like the guitar, cannot easily stand against a full string orchestra, but all balance problems are solved here, and we get a thick Persian carpet of sound, with the mandolin voice like a silver thread. After all the energy is spent, we return to meditative quietude in the third movement, which serves as a recapitulation of the first. Now the music is more philosophical, full of precious pauses and long notes. The tremolo is the base line on which the movement hangs. The concerto ends, as it started, with a sequence of three rising chords – just like Mendelssohn’s Midsummer overture. This is not music for the highbrow – but it touched the strings of my soul. Avi Avital makes his mandolin sing and cry. The orchestra is most sympathetic and sensitive.

Next comes the Piccolo Concerto; not meant as an opposite to a Concerto Grosso, but just as a concerto for piccolo. In order to solve the obvious balance problems in the tessitura, the composer adds the piano as an active ingredient. The first movement is jazzy and Baroque at the same time, a true mix of epochs and styles. It has a lot of syncopation, fugal runs and short bright episodes. The result is a little hard to follow due to the abundance of ever-switching motifs, but it has the irresistible momentum of a Bach concerto. The slow movement starts in the shadow of Aranjuez, but then drifts away over green meadows where shepherds play their sad flutes to the cold western plains of Ennio Morricone. A poignant motif is heard at the end, as an unanswered question. The finale is a fast ride, a dense moto perpetuo, somewhat mechanical but never boring. The soloist Mindy Kaufman plays with brilliance and flair, and makes 15 minutes of listening to a piccolo not only bearable – quite an achievement - but highly enjoyable. I loved the hard trills at the end of the first movement; and her agility in the third was stunning. The orchestra displays its strong rhythmic skills.

The soloists in Concerto Grosso are a string quartet and a harpsichord. The structure is similar to the Mandolin Concerto. The first movement uses the main theme from Händel’s Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.4 as the starting point. There is something of Pärt’s works like Tabula Rasa in the calm, static stretches alternating with affectionate tuttis. This may be the most Baroque of Dorman’s concertos, in its spirit of contrast, of heat and cold. The second movement is a Vivaldian presto with Schnittke-like distortions. Its structure is a patchwork and not easy to grasp, yet each part of the mosaic is bright and interesting. The composer is like a man that has found a magic wand; he can’t stop reveling in his powers to rule the torrents and the winds. “I can do that! Yes! And I can do this! Look!” It doesn’t sound arrogant at all, but endearing, and his enthusiasm is contagious. As in Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No.1, the short closing movement is an aftermath, a slow awakening, a dawn of swirling shades of grey. The harpsichord is the main voice here. We go through memories and reflections. The concerto ends, as one might expect, on a smiling Picardy third.

Now let’s have fun! The Piano Concerto was written by Dorman at the age of 19. It is impressive - a concerto equivalent of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. It has great drive, clarity, and lots of youthful arrogance – in the best sense! It reminded me a lot of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos, with its push-all-the-good-stuff-in attitude in the first movement, and the fluffy Mozartean clouds in the second. The third movement starts mildly with a Polish-flavored introduction, and then dives headfirst into a dazzling, mercurial rondo, all syncopated. This concerto is very much Classical in spirit – Beethoven’s First Concerto comes to mind. Eliran Avni is magnificent. He plays with disarming and enthralling fist-banging recklessness. This is happy music, happily performed.

So, these are the four concertos. They may not be the most profound, critical-analytical or revolutionary. But music is first and foremost a beautiful art. And these concertos are definitely beautiful art. It would probably be better not to listen to them in a single run: you’ll discover more facets if you encounter them one by one.

The recording quality is excellent. Each soloist is ideally balanced with the strings. I especially admired the recording of the mandolin: the ringing aura of the sound is palpable. The liner-notes by the composer are very interesting. The playing of the Metropolis Ensemble led by Andrew Cyr is excellent: sensitive, supportive, very accurate and finely balanced, with a lot of spirit.

I am really happy that there are composers like Avner Dorman. I wish him a great future, for one shameless and purely selfish reason: I just love his music!

Oleg Ledeniov