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 that ranges from operas to songs, to chamber and orchestral
works. He has taught on the faculties of several prestigious
institutions and his music has 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 much more academic, 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 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 a 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 with the more academically oriented
pieces from the 1980s.
This is one of those discs that present both challenges and
delights. And it is a happy occasion to report that the Finisterra
Trio perform with a deft hand. The trio is obviously committed
to the music and they have 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