HerschHERSCH: Sonatas for Unaccompanied Cello 1 & 2. Daniel Gaisford, vcl. Vanguard Classics MCS-CD-104. 69 minutes.

I first became acquainted with Michael Hersch’s music through his monumental solo piano work The Vanishing Pavilions. The pieces recorded here  adjust Hersch’s large and large-hearted soundworld to the somewhat more intimate and introverted genre of the unaccompanied sonata for cello.

The genre has a long and distinguished history, characterized by big works that show off the expressive range of the instrument (an the player) as well as the virtuosic possibilities almost inherent in solo string playing. Hersch is solidly in that tradition here, with pieces that probe the nature of cello playing in the context of the composer’s very personal post 20th-century neo-modernism. The music is characterized by meditative lyricism or mysticism, punctuated by aggressively angular and rhythmically biting phrases.

Daniel Gaisford plays these difficult (in every sense of the word) and supremely rewarding pieces with seemingly limitless technique and a musical personality as strong as Hersch’s. Their collaboration makes for an exciting and provocative musical experience.

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