Avner Dorman Concerti on Naxos

Avner Dorman
Mandolin Concerto; Piccolo Concerto; Concerto Grosso; Piano Concerto in A
Avi Avital, mandolin; Mindy Kaufman, piccolo;
Arnaud Sussmann, Lily Francis, violins; Eric Nowlin, viola;
Michal Korman, cello; Aya Hamada, harpsichord;
Eliran Avni, piano;
Metropolis Ensemble, conducted by Andrew Cyr.
Naxos American Classics CD 8.559620

On the second Naxos CD devoted to the music of  Avner Dorman, concerti take center stage. At first blush, the composer seems to display a palpable streak of traditionalism. Triadic language abounds in his works and he makes many tips of the hat to Baroque music and neoclassicism. But there’s much more beneath this attractive, if familiar, surface. Dorman is also interested in uncovering some of the undiscovered potential of the concerto, exploring its capacity for different narrative arcs and recasting the genre with some unusual protagonists.

Indeed, it was for a work with an unlikely soloist, the Mandolin Concerto, written in 2006 for Avi Avital, that the disc has received the most attention. Avital’s incisive and nuanced performance has garnered a Grammy nomination. The Mandolin Concerto itself is one of the most adventurous works Dorman has yet composed. Its explorations of many timbres, orchestral effects, and myriad shifts of tempo & demeanor make it a dazzlingly mercurial and potent essay.

There’s more on the CD to recommend as well. Metropolis Ensemble, with a passel of soloists in concertino tow, sparkle in the Concerto Grosso (2003). The work features virtuosic string writing and cinematic sweep. Indeed, here Dorman displays a fluency of orchestration that in places reminds one of John Corigliano, his teacher during doctoral studies at Juilliard.

One would be forgiven if they assumed going in that a Piccolo Concerto would be a piercing prospect and too limited a palette to work satisfactorily. I’m still not convinced that this is a genre that requires a plethora of options, but soloist Mindy Kaufman’s rendering of the Dorman concerto for the instrument reveals striking versatility. The piece itself combines jazzy rhythms, neo-Baroque signatures, and resonances of the pipes and whistles found in a variety of folk music traditions.

Written when he was just 20 years of age, Dorman’s Piano Concerto in A Major is a splashy technicolor work that embraces virtuosic showmanship, combining a prevailingly Neo-romantic aesthetic with occasional post-minimal ostinati. Pianist Eliran Avni captures the concerto’s spirit, performing its often dizzyingly paced passagework and cadenzas with pizzazz. While no one will mistake it for the mature voice found in the Mandolin Concerto, the youthful exuberance of the Piano Concerto is frequently charming.

Concerto in A – 1st Movement from Metropolis Ensemble on Vimeo.

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