Yes, it's that dark -- as Hersch tends to be, but in ways that are purely existential and without moral corruption. There are no bad personas in Hersch's works, only innocents confronting an overwhelming world. But all the profound, powerful works he has written in the past don't buy him a place in the theater. Like Schubert and Schumann before him, Hersch may have a blind spot about the stage, if we are to judge from a work that doesn't know when to end or how to leave room for more audience empathy.
As a feat of composition, Threshold is hugely impressive: Hersch is at the peak of his powers. Yet the extreme registers he employs in instrumental works don't allow good text projection in vocal lines, which also fall back on obsessively repeated notes suggesting introspection but wearing on the ear despite the heroic resources and emotional commitment of soprano Hong. Staged by
As a cancer survivor, Hersch comes by this piece honestly. But for me, as a caretaker who has seen friends and family to the bitter end, I found the first act so "on the nose" that I recoiled from it. The observational detachment that gives Sorescu great precision was lost in a musical cauldron of unresolved dissonance.
Only in Act II when Hersch steps back, making great use of a Bach-like chorale as a backdrop for emotional content, does one willingly take his journey. But after something so emotionally arduous, is it wrong to want to take home something beyond the misery of illness?
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