Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Daron Hagen Shines as a Composer of Chamber Music

Daron HAGEN (b.1961)
Complete Piano Trios

Piano Trio No. 3 “Wayfaring Stranger” (2006) [17:56]
Piano Trio No. 1 “Trio Concertante” (1984) [14:40]
Piano Trio No. 2 “J’entends” (1986) [17:02]
Piano Trio No. 4 “Angel Band” (2007) [22:10]

Finisterra Trio
Kwan Bin Park (violin)
Kevin Krentz (cello)
Tanya Stambuk (piano)

Recorded at The Seasons Hall, Yakima, Washington, 24-27 April, 2008

NAXOS 8.559657 [71:48]

Daron Hagen is a prolific American composer whose music was until now, completely unknown to me. Educated at The Curtis Institute and at the Juilliard School, Hagen has an impressive catalogue of works that range from operas to songs, to chamber and orchestral works. He has taught on the faculties of several prestigious institutions and his works have been commissioned and performed by many of the major artists and ensembles active today.

The 2006 trio, subtitled “Wayfaring Stranger” was doubly inspired by the composer’s late brother and by a trip through the grounds of the civil war battle of Bull Run. While passing through the historic site, the composer heard the American folk hymn and was inspired by the tune. All four movements have some element of the tune in their fabric, but it is in the beautifully lyrical second movement that the tune is most prominent. At times quasi-impressionistic, at others rather shamelessly romantic, this brief but substantial four movement work is full of contrasting colors, such that the ear is always piqued with interest. The Finisterra trio delivers a confident and well balanced performance.

The “Trio Concertant” is a much more academic work, composed while Hagen was a student of David Diamond. Considerably more serious than the folksy third trio, this student work is more of a challenge to the ear. More dissonant, it is obviously geared toward pleasing the jury more than the audience. Having said that, it is a piece that is filled with creative gestures and original thoughts. In spite of the generally tangy harmonies and angular rhythms, there are lyrical moments of repose, and these moments are what save the work from the ivory tower.

Inspired by the last words of Nadia Boulanger (“I hear a music without beginning or end.”), Hagen’s Second Trio from 1986 is both angular and lyrical, dissonant and melodic. Even though some of the terse harmonies are a bit challenging to the ear, the use of intricate counterpoint and some wonderfully virtuoso writing for violin harmonics in the second movement make this work a fascinating listen.

Perhaps my favorite of the program here is the Fourth Trio, “Angel Band” from 2007. Based on an blue grass hymn tune and further inspired by Appalachian folk instruments, the work is a tribute to Joyce Richie Stosahl, a violinist and impresario who grew up in Kentucky during the depression and went on to have a remarkable career as a soloist and orchestral musician. Set in five movements, the work is full of folksy color while still maintaining Hagen’s unique harmonic voice. It is evident though to these ears that the older Mr. Hagen gets, the more lyrical his music becomes. Some of the melodies in this, the newest of the works presented here are downright gorgeous; a trait that sharply contrasts the more academically oriented pieces from the 1980’s.

This is one of those discs that present both challenges and delights. And it is a happy occasion to report that the Finisterra Trio performs it all with a deft hand. The trio is obviously committed to the music and they perform with a fine sense of ensemble and balance. It is difficult to comment on interpretation when these works have had little recorded exposure, so I will simply say that these are convincing performances that sell the works quite well. They definitely merit repeated listening.

As for Hagen, this is my first exposure to his music, and with all first hearings, my first tendency is to ask “do I wish to hear more?” The answer is definitely yes. If Mr. Hagen can compose music this diverse for just three instruments, it will be a very exciting adventure to hear what he does with a full orchestra. Viva Naxos for their continuing commitment to bringing out the best music, whether it be widely known or not!

No comments: