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The New Criterion

In Daniel Gaisford, Hersch has found an ideal interpreter an ideal exponent.
Gaisford is an American cellist a few years older than Hersch, and not well-known. Why this is so is a mystery and it teaches us something about the music business. When I first heard Gaisford in Philadelphia, about a year ago, I was stunned: How could there be so good a cellist I had never heard, or even heard of? Evidently, not every master is on the covers of magazines, or the covers of CDs; some have unorthodox careers. Gaisford has a formidable technique and a formidable mind. He can make a hundred sounds: fat, thin, spiky, lyrical, rich, sickly, piercing, warm. And Hersch’s sonatas call for a great many of them.  
On the Barge, Gaisford played with a grave mien throughout. He gave the impression that he was not merely performing a sonata, but doing something supremely important.

        

New York Times

 MICHAEL HERSCH: SONATAS NOS. 1 & 2 FOR UNACCOMPANIED CELLO

Daniel Gaisford, cellist. Vanguard Classics MCS-CD-104.

MICHAEL HERSCH’S Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied cello is one of his earliest published works, written when he was 23, in 1994. The riveting piece, given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford, is included on the first of three discs featuring Mr. Hersch’s solo and chamber music for string instruments, being released by Vanguard Classics. MICHAEL HERSCH’S Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied cello is one of his earliest published works, written when he was 23, in 1994. The riveting piece, given a gripping performance by Daniel Gaisford, is included on the first of three discs featuring Mr. Hersch’s solo and chamber music for string instruments, being released by Vanguard Classics.

The intensity and communicative power of this sonata, at times an anguished lament, is typical of much of Mr. Hersch’s work, which also includes symphonies, a piano concerto and “The Vanishing Pavilions,” a 2006 work for solo piano lasting more than two hours. The sonata’s profoundly solitary, rhapsodic first movement veers between yearning lyricism and agitated outbursts. The reflective second movement, a showcase for Mr. Gaisford’s rich, penetrating tone and searing musicality, ebbs and flows into the harmonically rich final movement, with its virtuoso challenges and almost brutal intensity. Mr. Gaisford, who, to judge from this recording, deserves greater recognition, also offers a mesmerizing performance of Mr. Hersch’s seven-movement Sonata No. 2, composed in 2000. A similarly dark mood pervades the first movement, which sounds as if several cellos were playing a mournful chorale. Arpeggiated 16th notes in the second movement create multilayered waves of sound, in contrast to the spare, brief third movement, with its urgent six-note motif. The bitter chorale of the opening resurfaces in the terse fourth movement. Mr. Gaisford plays with probing commitment in the passionate fifth movement, a whirlwind of octave leaps and rapidly ascending figurations. The stark staccato motif of the third movement is reprised in the sixth. A poignant chorale pierces the arching finale, which fades to a whisper on a low G. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer

  • Comparisons with Bach's unaccompanied cello works are inevitable. But while Bach created a tour de force, sketching huge musical constructions with this predominantly linear instrument, Hersch did more than sketch. Though the second sonata makes passing references to Bach's dance-based movements (though in its own exploded manner), the cello was like an orchestra unto itself - it rants, pants, screams and cowers - particularly as played by the remarkable Daniel Gaisford, who may be America's greatest unknown cellist. There's a backstory there. With a slew of A-list credits, Gaisford retreated to the Colorado Rockies when he heard one of his radio performances and wasn't happy. Having stumbled upon the 1994 Sonata No. 1, written when Hersch was 23, Gaisford spent a cabin-bound winter near Basalt, Colo., working for the U.S. Forest Service and playing the explosive piece. By coincidence, he was later hired to premiere another Hersch chamber work at Carnegie Hall. The cellist, now based in Harrisburg, surprised the composer with the unaccompanied sonata memorized and understood with a depth of insight that prompted the creation of the second sonata in 2001.