Michael Hersch: Complete Works for Solo String Instruments - Volume II
Label: Vanguard Classics (MC-105)
Miranda Cuckson, violin; Blair McMillen, piano
Release Date: November 2010
In late 2010, Vanguard Classics released the second installment of its ambitious survey of Michael Hersch's works for strings. Volume I of the Vanguard series, which featured Hersch's Sonatas Nos. 1 & 2 for Unaccompanied Cello, was released to great acclaim in 2009. The current disc comprises his works for violin, featuring violinist Miranda Cuckson, who has emerged over the past decade as among the foremost new music advocates of her generation.
The present title is Vanguard’s fifth recording of Hersch’s works, a rare honor for a composer who at the time of its release was not yet 40. His first disc of chamber music was released in 2003, with performances by the String Soloists of the Berlin Philharmonic, alongside performances of Hersch’s piano works with the composer at the keyboard. His second disc for the label, on which Hersch performed his own Milosz Fragments in addition to works by Josquin des Pres, Wolfgang Rihm, and Morton Feldman, was selected by both The Washington Post and Newsday as among the most important recordings of 2004-5. In 2007, Vanguard released a two-CD boxed set of the composer's landmark work, The Vanishing Pavilions, again with the composer at the piano.
The new recording, features Hersch's Five Fragments, Fourteen Pieces after texts of Primo Levi, both for unaccompanied violin, and the wreckage of flowers: 21 pieces after poetry and prose of Czeslaw Milosz, where Ms. Cuckson is joined by pianist Blair McMillen.
"Michael Hersch writes music that can take the tiniest of gestures and within seconds wreak havoc on one's emotional state. The brief Fourteen Pieces for unaccompanied violin on texts of Primo Levi take on images of dread - "dense violent dreams," one line reads ... The sixth movement beginning "I won't go far," sounds like a tentative but graceful reaching -- a trapeze artists with no net stretching an arm out."
— The Newark Star-Ledger (2011)
"In his typically uncompromising manner, composer Michael Hersch collects his violin chamber works - all of which emotionally go for broke but in different ways - onto a single disc, no matter how heavy-going it might initially seem. All three works - Fourteen Pieces, the wreckage of flowers, and Five Fragments - come from a period (2003-2007) when Hersch was writing intense but tiny micromovements. Fourteen Pieces, for example, has 14 movements in 31 minutes. ... Hersch supplies accompanying poetic fragments by Primo Levi and Czeslaw Milosz that give the ear a needed compass in his wintry journeys. ... the performances are completely up to the often-explosive demands of the music ..."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Both the 14 Pieces and The Wreckage of Flowers take the inspiration for their brief, aphoristic movements from fragments of poetry; of Primo Levi in the one case, and Czeslaw Milosz in the other. Both sets of texts share a sense of desolation, and both contain powerful imagery of nature ... Abrupt gestures - some quite tonal, others decidedly not - decay into silent voids; lamenting melodies alternate with violent chordal playing; virtuoso filigree gives way to sombre meditativeness. The result is a highly expressive, quasi-programmatic series of images. The generally more somber Milosz pieces are similarly evocative, with eerie shadings of violin tone, while the piano part interacts with the violin in brusque clusters or in dialogue that can be complementary or confrontational, according to the poetic context. The little Fragments have no accompanying text, but heard in the context of the other works with their evocative vividness, they seem to imply imagery and narrative of their own."
— Records International