HERSCH: The Vanishing Pavilions. Michael Hersch, piano. Musical Concepts 124 [2CD]. 142 minutes.
Michael Hersch’s The Vanishing Pavilions is a monumentally protean work, one that announces a major talent, both as composer and pianist. The Vanishing Pavilions is a cycle of 49 pieces, ranging in length from 42 seconds to 10 minutes and 18 seconds, inspired by poems by Christopher Middleton.
In style it is thoroughly and freshly modernist, with cascades of notes settling into mysterious chordal passages, and melodic fragments appear, disappearing, and finally reappearing in new guises. The rhythmic style is quasi-improvisatory, neither wedded to a pulse nor avoiding one.
The Vanishing Pavilions commands attention as a single piece over its more than two-hour playing time. A clear expressive arc is drawn by the pieces in each of the two “Books” that comprise the whole. At the same time, though, it is rewarding to listen to individual pieces, as well.
A few of the movements (notably “The Snow Ignites” and Intermezzo (B)) return later in the piece for second (and even third) appearances, but they are subtly different, through a shift in register or a change in dynamic balance. This use of modified repetition of sections is one means the composer uses to both move the musical argument forward and to provide the listener with recognizable guideposts along the way.
The composer gives a compelling and authoritative account of his work. His pianistic technique is seemingly limitless and his expressive resources vast.
“Promise” and “potential” are terms usually applied to young artists who have yet to produce major works and/or revelatory performances. In Michael Hersch we have a promising young (he was born in 1971) composer/performer who has already fulfilled potential in both areas. I look forward to hearing more from him.