The end of March saw the release of a self-produced CD of three compositions by Howard Hersh, all written since the beginning of this century. All three of the pieces feature keyboardist Brenda Tom. She performs the five-movement suite Angles and Watermarks (also the title of the album) as a harpsichord soloist. She also plays solo piano in “Dream” and in “Concerto for Piano and Ten Instruments” (which, strictly speaking should be “ten instrumentalists,” since the flute part doubles on piccolo and the clarinet part doubles on bass clarinet). “Dream” was originally conceived as part of a larger composition in 2003 but was reworked as a piano solo in 2010. Angels and Watermarks was composed in 2004, and the concerto was written in 2008.
Hersh’s rhetoric covers a spectrum from ebullient positive energy (without going over the brink to mania) to quiet (if occasionally self-indulgent) introspection. He seems to have many sources of inspiration and is not shy about evoking them. The concerto almost feels like a latter-day reflection on both of George Gershwin’s piano rhapsodies. In Angels and Watermarks, on the other hand, one is never sure whether his angels come from Caravaggio or from Hallmark greeting cards. Nevertheless, this is probably his wittiest piece, particularly during the lullaby movement, which appropriates (if a bit oxymoronically) “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”
The down-side to this collection is that things tend to go on longer than necessary. Hersh has no shortage of inventive ideas, but he seems to wish to inflate them to symphonic scale when they would probably be far more effective as vignettes. However, because so much energy is involved, particularly in the concerto, one would probably be less aware of these longeurs during an actual performance, rather than when listening to a recording.