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Expressive Beauty

Chamber music by
Marjan Mozetich -
enjoyed by

'... "Hymn of Ascension" stood out for its power and cogency.'

Marjan Mozetich: Lament in the Trampled Garden. © 2009 Centrediscs

Marjan Mozetich (born in Italy in 1948), a Canadian composer of Slovenian parentage is currently Adjunct Lecturer in Composition at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.

He co-founded and was artistic director of the contemporary ensemble, Arraymusic ( and his distinctions include first prize in the SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers, Canada) Sir Ernest MacMillan Award.

In 1996 Mozetich's lush romantic work, The Passion of Angels for two harps and orchestra, received a world premier with the Edmonton Symphony, and Postcards from the Sky was premièred by the Thirteen Strings in Ottawa. Furthermore his violin concerto, Affairs of the Heart, received a standing ovation at the première with Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 1997. In February 2000 the première of his Piano Concerto, dedicated to noted Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995) and created for its soloist Janina Fialkowska, also received a standing ovation and high critical praise.

Remarkably, when CBC Radio broadcast the concert performance of Affairs of the Heart, switchboards lit up from coast to coast. There were numerous reports of what those who work in radio sometimes call 'the driveway experience' -- where listeners are so captivated by what they're hearing, they remain in their cars, listening to the end, even though they've long since arrived home. Today the concerto is available with Edmonton's Juliette Kang (born 1975) and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra with conductor Mario Bernardi (CBC Records). It's also recorded by Russian violinist Roman Mints (born 1976) on Quartz Records.

The four works on this CD represent Mozetich's chamber music oeuvre during the last two decades. Three of them involve a string quartet; either alone (Lament in the Trampled Garden; 1992) or with other instruments (Angels in Flight, 1987; Hymn of Ascension, 1998). The final piece -- Scales of Joy and Sorrow from 2007 -- is a piano trio.

Wholenote Magazine, the Toronto classical and post-classical concert listing publication, observes -- 'Mozetich has developed a style that may best be described as "lush".'

Mozetich's chamber works are immediately approachable, highly idiosyncratic and singularly captivating and these four show clear contrasts, one with another; in particular I found Hymn of Ascension stood out for its power and cogency.

However it emerges as markedly different from music for communal worship -- works such as the hymn for Ascension Sunday, Of Faith That May Inspire, with words by Marilyn E Thornton and music of the Old Hundredth.

This strikingly effective work begins with a rising chorus for upper strings and harmonium. Observe the gripping effect Mozetich achieves by sticking to the plateau (3'25"-4'00") before his cello entry.

Listen -- Hymn of Ascension
(track 5, 3:20-4:23) © 2009 Centrediscs

Similarly, before moving forward Penderecki String Quartet cellist Simon Fryer dwells on a solitary, sombre note (4'02"-4'23") leading onto a haunting violin entry (5'33") and ensuing dialogue. From 7'21" the mood and texture become more urgent. At 10'13" the early mood and pace are re-established though now a degree of restrained optimism is evident.

The 'hymn' is most surely a masterpiece and deserving of a more prominent place in the chamber repertory.

Initially the unexpected melodic quotient in Scales of Joy and Sorrow suggests Saint-Saëns on a gloomy autumn day in Paris. At the same time Mozetich's scalic development is surprisingly effective.

The second movement, Arabesque, conjures hints of a Romantic order though the impelling concluding movement (marked, in common with the first movement, 'slow and expressive') sets off at a fair old lick until the work's opening theme returns (3'31") leading the 'Scales' to their final exit.

Listen -- Slow and Expressive (Scales of Joy and Sorrow III)
(track 8, 2:34-4:33) © 2009 Centrediscs

Here, beyond question is a work of notable ingenuity and expressive beauty.

How far Mozetich appears to have come since Centrediscs' opening work, Angels in Flight, the sole example of his output in the 1980s, and marred, unfortunately, by a tendency to meander.

The scoring is for string quartet, flute, clarinet and harp. According to the CD notes we're intended to envisage a triptych -- for Mozetich was inspired to write the work after studying an Annunciation scene by Italian Renaissance artist Fra Filippo Lippi (1406-1469).

As with the chamber music programme as a whole, Angels in Flight is wholly tonal and perhaps most successful in its second movement, Song to the Eternal. For me this came as a relief after complex, overripe textures throughout the first movement.

Listen -- Song to the Eternal (Angels in Flight)
(track 2, 1:20-2:38) © 2009 Centrediscs

Whether Angels ...' prevailing oscillations are meant to represent wings in motion is not clear but I found the constant pulsations more than a little bothersome.

Which leaves me with the thirteen-minute title track, Lament in the Trampled Garden from the early 1990s. This is a straightforward one-movement work commissioned by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for the 1992 Banff International String Quartet Competition.

It proves a substantial piece, keeping each of the four players 'on their toes'. At the start, the cello introduces a lament over an arpeggiated backing. Later there are a range of pizzicato effects after which Mozetich sneakily breaks into near jazz idiom.

Listen -- Lament in the Trampled Garden
(track 4, 7:41-9:18) © 2009 Centrediscs

I imagine the Banff contestants of seventeen years ago would have enjoyed themselves immensely with this inspirational test piece.

Copyright © 1 June 2009 Howard Smith,
Masterton, New Zealand






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