HAGEN 21st Century Song Cycles
Daron Hagen was Ned Rorem’s first composition student at the Curtis Institute during the early 1980s and this collection of song-cycles written since the turn of the century show his mentor’s influence in the way he attends to each word in each line. As performed here it also hearkens back in time to when Schubert heard his songs at intimate gatherings of friends and colleagues.
The magic starts with the first and longest track, the first of six songs that make up his multilingual After Words, in which Justine Aronson and Joseph Gaines engage in an imagined conversation inspired by Schubert’s Winterreise on the nature of art and love. Along the way Hagen casually evokes sexy hints of Schubert, Broadway and serialism, before the music bursts into innocent lyrical love. There are similarly striking tracks and moments throughout the recital, as when Gilda Lyons leans into poet Susan Griffin’s battlecry ‘I wake thinking of myself as a man’, which will rouse anyone who happens to be listening unawares.
There is no let-up in quality with the Four Dickinson Songs, where Hagen catches the sparkle in each poem, including an extraordinary ‘Wild Nights’, and delivers its punchline with a musical solution that turns out to be unexpected – and right. The Four Irish Folk Songs briefly suggest Britten’s folk-song settings but focus more on richness than purity. Hagen’s florid setting of ‘Danny Boy’ as sung by Kelly Ann Bixby and Suzanne DuPlantis is quite sublime.