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American Record Guide, October 2006

Israeli Avner Dorman (b 1975) studied at Juilliard with John Corigliano. This is mostly student and post-student piano pieces, played by his Juilliard colleague, Eliran Avni.

The three sonatas show a variety of interests, all of them conservative, musical, and audience-friendly. The pre-Corigliano Sonata 1 (1998), subtitled Classical, is a pleasant three-movement affair with virtuosic nods to Prokofieff and Poulenc, put forth with plenty of healthy personality. The Corigliano era begins with Sonata 2 (2001). The first movement composes out an improvisation at a smoky New York club (see Michael Sahl’s Jungles, last issue, for a different version of the same scenario). The second and final move­ment is a wildly exuberant multiple-metered dance. Sonata 3 (2005), also titled Dance Suite, opens as an extended fantasy for a blind oud player and ends with sizzling Modern Music jazz. (“Unexpectedly, the serene atmosphere disappears”, as the notes put it.) The idea is to suggest a “multicultural” reconciliation of worlds, ancient and modern, ethnic and Western.

The remainder of the program is spare piano pieces of varying length. There are a beautiful, very early Prelude from 1992 (the composer was 17), two etude-like Moments Musicaux from 2003, and a showy Azerbaijani Dance written in 2005 especially for this disc. Mr Dorman reminds me a little bit of Fazil Say in his general outlook…This well-produced and immaculately played release will please certain audiences…Mr Dorman is certainly a composer to be watched.

Gary Higginson
MusicWeb International, September 2006

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?

Ken Smith
Gramophone, September 2006

Solo piano works show why this fresh young voice is in so much demand

Israeli composer Avner Dorman has achieved his fame much the way Hemingway’s character fell into bankruptcy: gradually, then suddenly. At 25 the youngest composer to win Israel’s Prime Minister Award, the now 30-ish Dorman is the youngest composer on publisher G Schirmer’s roster, with orchestras, soloists and chamber ensembles vying for his attention.

This survey of his solo piano works falls squarely in the Israeli concert tradition, keeping any innovations fully in line with their predecessors. Dorman, in fact, practically wears his models on his sleeve, with this eclectic First Sonata (1998) revealing a distinct structural similarity to Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, and his Moments musicaux (2003) being something of a polytonal Schubert.

Although Dorman’s earliest and latest pieces here, his Prelude No 1 (1992) and Azerbaijani Dance (2005), likewise honour their models—Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier and Lisztian barnburners respectively—they are equally based on an omnivorous musical sense that makes modern jazz and central-Asian musical styles equally pianistic.

Perhaps the biggest leap, though, comes between the Second Sonata (2001) and the Third (2005), where Dorman’s penchant for using familiar forms as hooks on which to hang disparate stylistic influences—the techniques of jazz pianist Art Tatum, in the case of the Second—give way to having those genres contribute to the structure as well. Stretching the formal principles of his Azerbaijani Dance on a broader canvas, the Third Sonata taps into streams of Arabic musical culture and contemporary techno, unfolding a three-movement musical narrative ranging from the contemplative to the dramatic, from the familiar to the exotic.

Dorman is not just a fresh, young voice worth following. He’s also a composer whose music, particularly as rendered here by pianist Eliran Avni (from whom several of these works were written), fits well on the instrument and resonates strongly with the musical tradition at large. And there is no surer way for composers to get people to play their music and to listen to it.

Terry Blain
MUSO, August 2006

Avner Dorman’s music is billed here as a ‘fusion of avant-garde, jazz and ethnic elements’. My heart sank when I read this—‘fusion’, in classical speak, normally means ‘devoid of discernibly individual content’.

Not with Dorman, fortunately. When the opening movement to this First (‘Classical’) Piano Sonata scuttles off like Poulenc accompanying a Buster Keaton feature, you know you’re in the hands of a sharp and strongly distinctive musical imagination.

Ravel certainly seems a point of reference in the delectable Andantino a Piacere, but again Dorman speaks in his own clear and unmistakable accent. Is the movement possibly a touch lengthy given the mordant witticism of the two flanking it?

Piano Sonata No 2 plumbs deeper emotionally in its opening Adagio, and has an explosively percussive second movement finale. Sonata No 3 draws on Dorman’s Middle Eastern background (he is Israeli-American), melding contemporary influences in Techno, the whirring conclusion.

Steven Winn
San Francisco Chronicle, July 2006

Claudio Monteverdi’s sixth book of madrigals may be the unhappiest sheaf of music ever written. Devoted to the composer’s grief over the death of his wife in 1607 and then of a favored female singer a year later, these 18 songs seep lamentation and woe. The singers’ voices twine together and wrench apart, as if seized in spontaneous, uncontrollable outbursts. All of it is contained in the taut but flexible madrigal form the composer used in such vividly original ways. The performances, by the vocalists of Concerto Italiano under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini, are urgent, artful and tenderly shaped. Some listeners may find the sorrowful mood engulfing and oppressive. Even a melismatically ripe recollection of happiness, in “Zefiro torna,” comes darkly shaded with melancholy.

Allan Kozinn
The New York Times, July 2006

The most common complaint of listeners who dislike new music is that its language, whether atonal, avant-garde or Minimalist, stands apart from the syntax and harmonic vocabulary that developed over earlier centuries. But composers can't win; those who try to reconnect with that lost thread are often dismissed as throwbacks.

Avner Dorman, a 31-year-old Israeli composer who lives in New York, clearly believes that the language of the early 20th century — essentially tonal but ripping free of tonality; within shouting distance of Romanticism but not under its shadow — can still be useful. Though the piano works here are accessible and inviting, describing Mr. Dorman as conservative wouldn't be quite right. These works draw on the energy and spikiness of Prokofiev and Bartok in textures interwoven with moves borrowed from rock, jazz and Middle Eastern folk music.

Mr. Dorman's genre mixing begins with the earliest work here, the Prelude No. 1 (1992), which uses an arpeggiated Bach prelude as a template but rounds out its chords with blue notes and jazz harmonies. A set of "Moments Musicaux" (2003) offers a ruminative, soulful opening movement offset by a vigorous, bright-edged Presto that combines a Prokofiev-style harmonic steeliness with a salsa rhythm. Popular influences of a more antique strain animate the "Azerbaijani Dance" (2005), a brief, assertive showpiece that examines a folk theme through the lens of splashy pianism.

Mr. Dorman's Sonata No. 1 (1998) remains fully in Prokofiev mode, with finger-breaking, big-textured outer movements and a long, mostly lyrical central one. Though the piano writing is appealing and supremely idiomatic, it only hints at how Mr. Dorman's compositional voice will develop. The two-movement Sonata No. 2 (2001) is more idiosyncratic. It begins with a quiet but increasingly acidic slow movement, which builds toward an eerie tolling figure, and ends with a forceful, rhythmically sharp-edged finale.

But Mr. Dorman seems to have found himself in the Sonata No. 3 ("Dance Suite," 2005). Here he prowls territory similar to that of the "Azerbaijani Dance" and draws on post-tonal and pop influences as well. In the central movement, "Oud and Kanun," Mr. Dorman evokes the gentle timbres of the oud, an Arabic lute, and the modal language of traditional Arabic music. Then he creates a dialogue in which the oud melodies and harsher contemporary figures gradually adopt each other's characteristics. Surrounding this cultural interplay is an introspective Prelude, which uses the keyboard's extremes, and a quick finale that Mr. Dorman calls "Techno" but that doesn't quite evoke the electronic characteristics of that pop form.

Eliran Avni plays these works with an assurance and flexibility that make them sound as if they had been in his repertory forever. He has the ironclad technique that Mr. Dorman's writing demands, but there is ample suppleness in his playing as well, a quality that makes the slow, quiet movements as arresting as the fiery ones.

Jens F. Laurson
Ionarts, June 2006

First to Avner Dorman’s solo piano works performed by Eliran Avni. À la bonheur! This is good music—of the kind that, if it were by a prominent, preferably dead, composer, would be called “eminently pleasing” and “utterly delightful.” Since it is a new face, however, that shows his “Classical” Sonata No. 1, Moments Musicaux (some competition he’s got with other works that go by that title), Prelude No. 1 (written as an 18-year-old), Sonata No. 2 and the 2005 Dance Suite: Sonata No. 3, one is tempted to be more reserved and say things like “charming, if harmless” or “quaint and unchallenging listening.” Probably a bit of both is true, but more importantly there are some ‘damn good’ moments, too—and that these works make for very enjoyable listening. Repeat listening is even more rewarding: the playful way that the “classical” first sonata mimics anything from Beethoven to Liszt (“Romantic” would have been just as good a nickname) to popular music and has all the youthful quirks of unburdened composing. Dorman has an ear for a good tune but avoids cheapness. Come to think of it, this is “damn good.”

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