MICHAEL HERSCH (b.1971): Images from a Closed Ward for String Quartet.
Catalogue Number: 03T077
Label: New Focus Recordings
Description: Hersch seems drawn to dark subject-matter, especially in the extended chamber works of his recent output, and much of what we said about his epic, bleak duo, Last Autumn (on writings by W.G. Sebald) (05Q093), applies here. The Images are the disturbing etchings in the 'Closed Ward' series from the 1960s by Michael Mazur (1935-2009), depicting patients in an insane asylum. These despairing, faceless figures, contorted and slumped into subhuman positions like living figures drawn from Hieronymus Bosch or Francis Bacon, evoke thirteen brief movements ranging from the desperately sad to the utterly desolate, with one episode of manic fury. The movements contrast in style, texture, degree of dissonance and depth of despair, though all share a basically slow pulse and a heavy tread of unison voicing, with relatively little contrapuntal writing - even the raging eleventh movement with its furiously clashing lines is underpinned by the consistent drumbeat of the unvarying oppression of the frantic soul's surroundings. Among the abrasive harmonies moments of lucidity occur, with the distant, detached calm of pre-tonal Renaissance music, as though the interior monologue of the distorted mind, forever unreachable, clings to fragmentary memories of beauty. The booklet reproduces a number of Mazur's pictures, matched with historical photographs, the briefest perusal of which shows the aptness of Hersch's interpretation of this gloomy, harrowing subject-matter. FLUX Quartet.