Penderecki String Quartet
Gryphon Trio
Erica Goodman / Shalom Bard / Christopher Dawes / Nora Shulman


Marjan Mozetich was born in Italy to Slovenian parents in 1948 and moved with them to Hamilton, Ontario at the age of four. So, he counts as a Canadian product (U. of Toronto 1968-1972). Among his teachers were John Weinzweig, Franco Donatoni, and Luciano Berio, giving him a healthy introduction to musical modernism. Becoming disenchanted with the increasing alienation between avant-garde composers and their audiences, Mozetich turned to such figures as Terry Riley and Philip Glass for inspiration in developing a more common language rooted in tonality. Yet his own distinctive style as a composer is not attributable to the influence of any one mentor. It is personal, deeply felt, and expressive of feeling to a very high degree. It involves a rethinking of continuous variation forms from the late Renaissance to the present, and is both intellectually challenging and accessible at the same time.

Angels in Flight (1987) is described as “a triptych in three panels for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet.” The title resonates with centuries-old associations in the visual arts (Mozetich has said he was initially inspired by an Annunciation scene of Fra Filippo Lippi), but the aim is musical gesture and expression, not mere pictorialism. Panel 1: Arrival and Dialogue opens with broad harp arpeggios and a duet between flute and clarinet. The music has color and brightness, drawing much of its energy from downward swooping figures. A pastoral melody, a sudden modulation, and then a boldly arching theme radiating light and grace. Panel 2: Song to the Eternal represents repose and tenderness, especially in the decorations the solo violin applies to the long line it shares with the flute. The spiritual climax of the movement involves hovering unisons and beautiful color transformations. In Panel 3: Departure, the movement is upward, in a progression that evokes emotions of sadness and beauty. There is a coda with solos from violin, clarinet and flute, and then the reappearance of the arching theme from the first panel, now tinged with the melancholy mod associated with leaving something beautiful behind. The ending dissipates with ascending arpeggios and trills. Though Angels in Flight will inevitably invite comparisons with Olivier Messaien in terms of color, continuous development, and religious inspiration, I think a study of these two easily recognizable composers will reveal Mozetich’s unique style.

Lament in the Trampled Garden (1992), so movingly interpreted here by the Penderecki String Quartet, stands as a metaphor and a lament for man’s destruction of his surroundings. At the opening, the cello issues a call to grieve in the form of a simple melodic cell from which the material grows organically. Contrasting emotion of bittersweet sorrow and remorse are succeeded by an increasing mood of desperation and anger. Tremolos and pizzicati in the next section create a pale, dreamlike mood, ushering in a lament by the first violin, accompanied by slowly resonating pizzicati and downward tending glissandi. Next, swinging syncopations by the violin create an illusory mood of energy in the Alla Jazz section. The final section is marked by a recurrence of the opening lament in slowly descending scales, a brief moment of loud defiance, and then an ebbing away into soft dissonant harmonics. The listener s free to supply his own real world correlative for what the music implies. (This work, by the way, was approved as a test piece for the Banff International String Quartet Competition, and very admirably puts the performing ensemble through all its paces.)

Hymn of Ascension (1998) seems to be both a nostalgic work and an attempt to bridge the past and the present, though no actual program is implied. Christopher Dawes on harmonium joins the Penderecki Quartet in relishing the work’s rich texture of slow ascending lines, recitative-like solos, cascading scales over pulsating tones, double-stopped exclamations over descending lines, and a beautiful arch of intertwining melodies at the end. The quality of Mozetich’s writing seems both timeless and contemporary at the same time. Finally, Scales of Joy and Sorrow for violin, cello, and piano (2007) involves the Gryphon Trio in an intriguing work with a double meaning. Scales, and scale fragments, are indeed the building blocks Mozetich uses, but “scales” also has the meaning of degrees – of joy, sweet sadness, and sorrow in a relationship. The work is organized in a five-section arch that seems highly congenial to the composer and what he wants the music to say: A (slow) B (fast) C (Arabesque) B recall (fast), A recall (slow). The perfect balance of the structure, together with the lush piano harmonies and the soft ostinato on which the work ends, combine to give the listener a feeling of wholeness and comfort.

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