Music Review

Music review: Michael Hersch and Daniel Gaisford at the Phillips Collection

A SENSE OF STRUGGLE: Michael Hersch's latest piece, like its predecessor, conveys personal turmoil.
A SENSE OF STRUGGLE: Michael Hersch's latest piece, like its predecessor, conveys personal turmoil. (Mitsu Yasukawa For The Washington Post)
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Composer-pianist Michael Hersch and cellist Daniel Gaisford are a well-matched pair. They both revel in the big picture and don't pay a lot of attention to detail. There's little room in the emotional urgency of their idiom for reflection or repose, but the color and the energy that characterize their musicmaking is compelling. The two shared the spotlight for Sunday's concert at the Phillips Collection, where Gaisford performed one of Hersch's earliest works, his Sonata No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello, and then the two collaborated on one of his most recent, the world premiere of "Two Pieces for Cello and Piano."

Fourteen years separate the composition of these pieces, but they share the same sense of dark personal struggle. The sonata, with the cello accompanying itself with crashing chords, sounds for all the world like an artist's heated conversation with himself. The piano in "Two Pieces" punctuates a series of explosive declamatory vignettes but, near the end, spins out a delightfully quiet interlude of three beats against two for a brief moment of textural transparency.

Gaisford, with his big sound and barely contained energy (his audible hissing and grunting was not actually a distraction in this music), is an ideal partner for Hersch. The music's considerable technical demands lay easily under his fingers. He plays with a wide fast vibrato that projects tension rather than warmth but that worked well here, and, though it took some time for his quiet entrances to settle in, his fortissimo attacks were impressive.

Gaisford opened the concert with a swift and athletic romp through the Bach unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1, which came out sounding an awful lot like a warm-up exercise.

-- Joan Reinthaler

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