On the inside cover of this CD’s album case is a brief note that explains the inspiration behind the music: “Imagine finding an old photo box up in the dusty attic, each photo telling of a story frozen in time.” As the reader may have already concluded, this work by Israeli composer Lior Navok (b. 1971) is modeled on Prokofieff’s (20) Visions Fugitives, a collection similarly titled (in French). But where Prokofieff is very brief and dreamy, playful and sarcastic, ever-busy and sometimes ferocious and motoric, Navok, while also dreamy and at times playful, is longer-breathed, more contemplative and often dark. Like Prokofieff, Navok can also be mischievous and humorous (try the colorful #8, Practice Room Hunt). But in the end, this is a far more sober set than Prokofieff’s. Indeed, at times it is downright grim: #16, Murder at the French Cabaret, and #18, Smuggler’s Boat – Coastguard Boat, are sinister, powerfully evocative pictures of the unseemly.
I should mention that Prokofieff’s twenty pieces last about twenty minutes; Navok’s take about an hour. Stylistically, Navok is somewhat chameleonic here and does not come across as an imitator despite the connection to Prokofieff. To give you an idea of the expressive language and sound world of The Old Photo Box, one might cite echoes of late-Schoenberg, Messiaen, Debussy – and Prokofieff. But even those reference points don’t clearly convey the heart of the music or its style. Some of the pieces may be difficult for certain listeners to grasp at first hearing, but patience will allow the music to shed its seeming complexities on the second or third hearing and grow more familiar to the ear.
There are thematic allusions and quotations in the set: the aforementioned #8, wherein a music student in a practice hall moves from room to room, contains several, including an obvious though clever one to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. But the most interesting – and haunting! – comes in the following piece, The Cave of One Question: here a lovely melody appears as an imaginatively-fashioned cross between the opening themes of Prokofieff’s Symphony #7 and Piano Concerto #3! An allusion to Prokofieff comes with Navok’s #14, Yorkstrasse Train Station – 1 AM, which starts out quite similarly to Prokofieff’s Fourth Sarcasm for piano; and, not to dwell on the Prokofieff connection too much, the last piece in Navok’s set is entitled Between Dream and Reality, while Prokofieff’s is marked Lento Irrealmente (unreal). There are many other subtle references to other works throughout this set that I could site – and probably a good many that I missed! Suffice it to say that whenever Navok makes a thematic reference it’s always cleverly done, summoning images that make the old photos come vividly to life.
The performances by Sarah Bob are excellent, full of character and color, and the sound is clear, if a bit dry and close. In the past, I have found the music of Navok inventive and masterly in its generally conservative idiom. A disc of orchestral works on NLP entitled Meditations Over Shore (named for one of the compositions on the disc) served as evidence of his unusual talent, as did a CD of chamber works on the same label entitled Hidden Reflections. This new disc documents his rare gifts as a composer of solo piano music.