Finisterra Piano Trio

Daron Hagen: Complete Piano Trios

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Composer Daron Hagen, a student of Ned Rorem, is eclectic in the current American fashion but manages to attach his various stylistic influences to a rigorously conceived core based on some manipulation of a small set of pitches. He is best known for vocal works, but these chamber pieces showcase his style attractively. Hagen is unusual in that he can mix music infused with American vernacular elements -- here, the folk hymns "Wayfaring Stranger" and "Angel Band, " but also classic blues and even bluegrass music -- with extended-tonal idioms that have nothing to do with folk and popular music. Even the most folkish piece of all, the Piano Trio No. 3, "Wayfaring Stranger," which includes two different sets of variations on the hymn, also includes an angular mazurka, a fandango, and an aubade as an introduction to the finale. The highly expressive feel holds it all together. The compact Piano Trio No. 1, "Trio Concertante," of 1984 has no vernacular elements at all; nor does the Piano Trio No. 2, "J'entends," based on Nadia Boulanger's supposed final words, "J'entends une musique sans commencement et sans fin." This is perhaps the least persuasive piece, presented by Hagen with the argument that he is "attempting to manipulate time the way a visual artist manipulates space," a statement too general to mean much. The final Piano Trio No. 4, "Angel Band," however, is gorgeous, and its programmatic use of the hymn material to depict stages in the life of the work's dedicatee, Kentucky-born violinist Joyce Ritchie Strosahl, is clearly audible. The Finisterra Trio, of international origins and based in Washington state, does well with Hagen's lush idiom. Recommended as an example of academic composition that manages a broader appeal.

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