Music by Daniel Dorff

 
Review of 2 all-Dorff CDs
in July/August 2013 Fanfare Magazine

reviewed by David DeBoor Canfield
 

The two CDs in hand have served to introduce me to the delightful music of Daniel Dorff, whose playful, winsome music should find a wide receptive audience. This is music that sparkles and cajoles in its tuneful caressing of the ears. A good example is the opening work on the Albany disc. Perennials is a suite in five movements for flute, clarinet, and piano. Its opening movement evokes the scintillating style of the music of Jean Françaix, as put through an American filter. Even its quiet second movement, Romanza, is not too serious, and the third, a scherzo, is rich in sparkling treble piano sonorities, which provide an aural equivalent of sunlight reflecting off of waves.

As a clarinetist and saxophonist himself, Dorff writes well for winds. His skills in melodic inventiveness and contrapuntal cleverness continue throughout the remaining works on the Albany CD, all of which are superbly executed by the Scott-Garrison Duo, whose pleasing tonal qualities, intonation, expressiveness, and wonderful musicianship are unwavering throughout the recital. Interspersed through the proceedings are Dorff's transcriptions of several of Bach's Two-Part Inventions, which provide contrast, even as they fit in well with the very tonal original music by Dorff. Cat enthusiast that I am, I cannot pass by the Two Cats without special comment, and the composer's own description of the piece is worth quoting here:
"I chose this opportunity [an SPCA fundraiser] to make musical portraits of Hootie, a handsome and elegant 20-pound tuxedo cat, and Tiki, a petite Bengal princess. Hootie's music is generally in a slow pulse with lyrical flowing phrases, just as Hootie is pensive and outwardly still, while clearly being very busy inside..Tiki's remarkable showcat grace and playful lightness are set as an effervescent scherzo, with a regally strutted circus march in the middle."
OK, cat aficionados-here's another great addition to your cat music collection. I am, at least, speaking to myself, since I have a collection of about 1,000 pieces of music relating to cats in one way or the other, and this work is a very welcome addition to my mélange.
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While the Albany CD contains miniatures (all of the works and movements range in duration from a half-minute to about five minutes), the Bridge disc gives us a glimpse of Dorff's more extended works (he has also written a Piano Concerto and numerous other orchestral works). I say "glimpse," because the works on this CD are all clearly intended for a young audience (although adults will also enjoy them), and don't necessarily reflect the style of the composer in his serious concert music. In Blast Off, a description of an astronaut's journey into outer space, the kids even get to help the narrator with the countdown, and they do this with the unbridled enthusiasm that only kids can muster. Blast Off is cut from heroic cloth-its sonorities begin firmly in C Major, and continue in the most optimistic vein throughout: No hints here of the occasional disasters that have marred the space program!

Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a setting of the traditional children's story that we all remember from our childhood. Dorff's musical setting complements the texts wonderfully, and certainly enhances the story from a child's perspective. Billy and the Carnival, on the other hand, serves as a child's introduction to the instruments of the orchestra. It was written on commission by the Sacramento Symphony, and was taken by that orchestra on a 25-city tour. Because of space restrictions, certain instruments (harp, percussion, some brass) had to be omitted from the narrative, but the work gives a splendid demonstration and setting for most of the main orchestral instruments, and is set in a more jazz-influenced style than the other works. This work may not evict Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra from its place of prominence, but it is a worthwhile companion piece.

Three Fun Fables sets three stories, "The Fox and the Crow," "The Dog and His Reflection," and "The Tortoise and the Hare." These are all likewise effective settings, and will captivate the interest of any child you know. In fact, at lengths ranging from a few to 15 minutes, all of the pieces on this CD are of ideal length for youngsters whose attention spans are limited.

Performances by narrators Ukee Washington and Ann Crumb are splendid - they both have the requisite gift of connecting with young folk. Rossen Milanov and Symphony in C give solid musical support, and the sonics by Bridge Recordings are up to its usual high standards. By all means, buy this CD for your children or young friends, but you might find yourself sneaking a listen to it even when they're not around! Both CDs are, in a word, a delight from beginning to end.