Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Career-spanning chamber music

Daren Hagen
Complete Piano Trios
Finisterra Trio

The four piano trios on this release come from two distinct phases of Daron Hagen’s career. The first two, written in 1984 and 1986 respectively, are works by a young composer just finding his way. The first trio, the “Trio Concertante” was written while Hagen was studying with David Diamond, and reflects the older composer’s style (at least to my ears).

“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 its 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.

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