The thing about the music on this disc of Daron Hagen's piano trios is that while these works are easily accessible even to relatively unsophisticated listeners, he does not 'dumb down' the music in order to do so. These are rigorously argued, unfailingly fascinating, masterfully constructed works of the highest order. And they are given wonderful performances by a group I was unfamiliar with, the Finisterra Trio, who get their clever name from combining 'finis' "the end" with 'terra' "the Earth", as the trio's three musicians came together in 2004 from 'the ends of the earth.'
There are four trios herein, two from the 1980s and two from the 2000s. The earlier works are the slightly gnarlier and somewhat more academic in tone, not surprising as Hagen was still a student when he wrote the First Trio and barely out of training when he wrote the second. The First, subtitled 'Trio Concertante', contains three movements with a rondo, a romanza and a passacaglia, each surrounded by a ritornello, each one differently orchestrated that the others. The Second is subtitled 'J'entends', a reference to the revered composition teacher Nadia Boulanger's last words, 'J'entends une musique sans commencement et sans fin' ('I hear a music without beginning or end'). The four movements juxtapose varying rhythms, harmonic motion or tempi sometimes overlapping them, mixed rather like a painter mixes his colors. Indeed, the whole trio was inspired by Hagen's contemplating various works of visual art, and in fact the second movement is called 'Interior - after Degas'. The final movement is a Quodlibet (a term familiar from the final movement of Bach's Goldberg Variations), a kind of medley of themes from the earlier movements.
The Fourth Trio, from 2007, is in five movements and is subtitled 'Angel Band' from its quotation of a traditional hymn, 'Oh, Come, Angel Band'. Inspired by the life of violinist Joyce Ritchie Strosahl, the movements outline Youth via Experience to Old Age, with the hymn tune recurring in various, often highly modified, guises. Of particular impact is the fourth movement, 'Blue Chaconne', which repeats the chaconne six times before broadening out into an extraordinary effect from combining the hymn tune and then the waltz of the second movement with the chaconne. The end resumes some of the innocence and joy of the original statement from movement one. A lovely work.
I have only heard a couple of works by Daron Hagen and loved them both: 'Shining Brow', which relates aspects of the life of Frank Lloyd Wright Daron Hagen: Shining Brow, and some humorous songs 'Figments' New American Song Cycles. He is clearly a major talent whose value is increasingly recognized, witness his lengthening list of commissions.
This one is worth hearing.