MICHAEL HERSCH (b.1971): Last Autumn.
Catalogue Number: 05Q093
Description: Last Autumn is an enormous forty-one movement commentary on, or extension of, W. G. Sebald's prose poem 'After Nature', and aside from its musical virtues, which are substantial, if it draws attention to Sebald and gets people reading him, it will have performed a most valuable service. Informed by the horrors of the Holocaust but rendered in ambiguous, allegorical terms that appear to be pastoral or academic writings about something else altogether, like the minutely realistic alternative worlds of Borges, Sebald's works abound in veiled images of decay, destruction, endings, fadings-away. The texts are an integral part of Hersch's work, and are printed in the score, and provided to the listener here. Having had early successes with works for large forces, Hersch has latterly turned to pieces of expansive duration for a small number of musicians of whom the utmost dedication and technical and expressive prowess are required. A pervasive melancholy is present throughout the work, with episodes of shocking violence; the succession of movements coalesces into a large structure, masterfully ebbing and flowing but with an underlying tension that is never absent. The perspective of the poetic fragments changes as the piece progresses, and the music that illustrates them evolves too, encompassing mournful chant-like 'lullabies' - clearly something else entirely, as when an early one contains veiled references to the Dies irae - abrasive scherzi; plangent laments; marches and romantic landscape-painting, the horn sounding incongruous calls from a distaint, unattainable past, echoes of Mahlerian tragedy that can only be viewed from a great distance, simultaneously confirming and refuting Adorno's famous statement. The theme of memory - of great importance in Sebald - is addressed by episodes of literal repetition, widely separated, that take on entirely new significance in the light of intrvening events. Many movements have an underlying tonal basis - felt more strongly in Part 2 - though this is often distorted or not sustained for the duration of the movement, ambiguity haunting the music at every turn, and it is not unusual to find one instrument confidently embracing a certain idiom while the other persistently, even aggressively, offers a counterpoint of view, both musical and stylistic. Then there are oases of introverted calm - again more prevalent in the second part - as though the protagonists have been forced to put, aside their differences in shocked mourning at something witnessed or anticfipated, that cannot be directly described. However varied and oblique the musical vocabulary, however complex the argument, the forms and textures are always precise and clearly delineated, their purpose and intent thus rendered with clinical precision. A powerful and disturbing listening experience that seems to suggest far more than even its two-hour duration can contain. 2 CDs. Jamie Hersch (horn), Daniel Gaisford (cello).