Complete Piano Trios
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To say that Daron Hagen is a remarkable musician,' wrote Ned Rorem in Opera News, 'is to underrate him. Daron is music.' Each of Hagen' piano trios has a particular significance. The first, Trio Concertante, won Columbia University' Bearns Prize for Chamb
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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.
"J'etands," Hagen's second trio, was inspired by Nadia Boulanger's final words. Like the first, it leans more towards atonality, but in the longer melodic lines you can hear Hagen's individuality beginning to emerge. He has the instruments toss ideas and motifs back and forth in a masterful fashion that always keeps the music moving forward.
Fast forward fifteen years to the creation of the third and fourth piano trios. Both of these works are based on American folk melodies. By this time Hagen's fully developed as a composer, and uses these tunes in a way that shows he's comfortable with his abilities and doesn't need to prove a thing to anyone.
He embraces a more tonal style for these last two trios, without sacrificing originality. In Piano Trio No. 3, "Wayfaring Stranger," the tune forms basis of second movement played more or less straight. In the other movements, different aspects of the melody chopped up and rearranged. The tune makes a reappearance at the end of the fourth movement (Aubade and Variations), tying the entire composition together.
The final trio, "Angel Band" uses the Appalachian gospel song as a starting point. As with the third trio, the tune is reduced to it's primary musical elements, which are then used to create new sonic structures. While the listener never gets a straight-forward statement of the original melody (save at the conclusion of the work), it clearly drives the structure and direction of the piece.
If you're looking for something a little more substantial than Americana tricked out in classical garb, I can highly recommend this disc. All four trios are solidly constructed, and have enough depth to reward repeated listening.