Label: Naxos 8.559281
Conductor: Marin Alsop
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Release Date: 2006
"... a natural musical genius who continues to surpass himself."
— Tim Page (The Washington Post)
"These performances confirm Michael Hersch (b.1971) as one of the most seriously engaging musical voices in the U.S. today. The Second Symphony marries a volcanic New World energy to a deeply skeptical, often angst-ridden spiritual climate. Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are brilliant advocates."
— Andrew Clark (The Financial Times, UK)
"(4 stars) Three years separate Michael Hersch's First and Second Symphonies. The first, composed in 1998, is hauntingly beautiful, densely textured with an inexorable sense of the organic. The second displays a rather more searching and adventurous style, where dramatic extremes and a more intense astringency are its lifeblood. There's an alluring boldness about this young American's music, which is noticeable too in Fracta and Arraché, both contained in this big-scale survey by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Marin Alsop."
— The Scotsman
"For many young composers, early works tend to project a youthful sense of innocence and discovery. Composer Michael Hersch, however, seems to have entered adulthood painfully aware of the darker ways of the world - heard in this first disc of his orchestral works in no uncertain terms. Though frequently characterized as a descendant of Mahler and Berg, Hersch's music is more aptly compared to the sinister sound collages of Alfred Schnittke. But even with the distinctly American vigor of imagination Hersch stands pretty much alone in this country in terms of his confrontational musical idiom. That might have been a minus to some 1990s audiences, but now seems to define our time. His dissonances were always fascinating; now they're oddly comforting. The Symphony No. 2 and Arraché in particular stand up well among Hersch's recent work, especially in these compelling, comprehending performances. In fact, this may be conductor Marin Alsop's best recording yet."
— The Philadelphia Inquirer
"(Hersch) has made several recordings as a pianist, and a solo disc devoted to his keyboard and chamber music came out of Germany. Now, Naxos gives us a full-scale introduction to his orchestral music, and it's impressive. In contrast to the minimalism that has occupied so much of the classical landscape during the last 30 years, and in contrast to neo-romantics, Mr. Hersch comes off as an unapologetic modernist. His pieces don't really sound much like the Second Viennese School (Berg, Schoenberg), but they're not afraid of dissonance. They're not really reminiscent of the big American symphonies of the middle 20th century, either. They feel less nationalist than William Schuman's, less esoteric than Roger Sessions'. But they share those composers' sense of scale and drama. The younger composer loves big gestures played off against solo laments. He favors the orchestra's lowest voices: tuba, cello and double bass, big bass drum. Notice the chimes that ring in the Symphony No.1. They immediately announce that something epic is happening. ... this music rewards repeated listening. The performances by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop are all you could wish for."
— The Dallas Morning News
"The Second Symphony leads off the disc. Cast in four movements, the last three played without pause, this nineteen-minute work begins as a violent, nightmarish torrent, then subsides to an unsettling calm. There are further outbursts and contrasting sections of calm throughout the symphony, but above the proceedings lingers a sense of anger and darkness. In the end, one assesses the work as a profound outpouring inspired by some tragedy. The insightful notes, by Andrew Druckenbrod, mention that the symphony was written in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, but that Hersch has acknowledged no connection to it here. Much in the notes is also made of Hersch's use of clusters in his orchestration and soundscape, but suffice it to say here that this unusual work, with its deftly-imagined, contrapuntal third movement (at six-and-a-half minutes, the longest of the four), will challenge many with its dense orchestration, high levels of dissonance and austere character, but will yield the patient listener many aural rewards ... his orchestration is imaginative and absolutely assured, and his grasp of contrapuntal writing is masterful."
— classical.net (2007)