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Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Violin Concerto, Op. 24 (1952) [31:54]
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29 (1958) [33:46]
Anastasia Khitruk (violin)
Andrey Tchekmazov (cello)
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitry Yablonsky
rec. Studio 5, Russian State Television and Radio Company KULTURA, 10-14 March 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570350 [65:40] 

 


Miklos Rózsa arrived in Hollywood in 1940 after study in Leipzig and a stint in Paris where Arthur Honegger encouraged him to compose music for films. In California he found a strong community of expatriate composers including Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Korngold, and some of the finest instrumental soloists then active, including Heifetz, Rubinstein and Piatigorsky. By the time he renewed his contract with MGM in 1952, his reputation was such that he was able to demand an unprecedented three months off per year to compose concert music. The first fruits of this arrangement came in the form of a violin concerto, written for Jascha Heifetz. Although the work was completed in the summer of 1952, Heifetz would not play the premiere until 1956 in Dallas. Enthusiastically received, it would soon be recorded by RCA, and this recording was to remain alone in the catalogue for nearly forty years. 

Unlike the concerto by his colleague Erich Wolfgang Korngold - also written for Heifetz - Rózsa’s work is far more harmonically adventuresome, though not without considerable episodes of soaring lyricism, particularly in the elegant and airy second movement. Korngold, whose music tended toward an ultra-romanticism ŕ la Richard Strauss, eschewed some of the tangier dissonances employed by Rózsa. One can perhaps attribute the difference in style to the fact that Rózsa grew up in Hungary, whose folk music tradition was considerably more rustic than that of Korngold’s Vienna. Regardless of his sources, Rózsa creates an austere, almost wintry landscape with his music, music that is tautly composed, carefully structured and gracefully assembled. Even in the rather aggressive and stark final movement, Rózsa spins one colorful melody after and other around a punchy and rhythmic accompaniment long on brass interjections and percussive effects from all sections of the orchestra, drums included. 

Anastasia Khitruk is an able successor to Heifetz, exhibiting both ample virtuosity and a warm singing tone that is both thrilling and engaging. She plays passionately and yet always in firm control over her emotions, bring the listener often to the edge of his chair without ever dumping him on the floor. Dmitry Yablonsky leads a finely tuned and rhythmically precise Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. The refined brass playing, not often a hallmark of Russian orchestras is not only refreshing but highly exhilarating. Balance between soloist and orchestra is fine, and the recording has the perfect combination of rich tone and clarity. 

The composer’s experience with his Sinfonia Concertante was not nearly as happy. Originally proposed by Piatigorsky, the completed work was considered unsatisfactory by the performers - particularly Heifetz - and the two dedicatees played only a considerably reworked second movement. The work would not see a full performance until some time later in Chicago, where it was deemed over-long and again met with a number of revisions before reaching the form that is heard in this recording. 

Considerably richer in texture than the violin concerto, the composer’s Hungarian roots are very evident in the melodies with their angular rhythms and acerbic harmonies. One can almost taste the goulash in the wonderfully pungent theme and variations, and yet, when the music needs a moment of repose, Rózsa weaves in a lush romantic theme worthy of any of his film scores. The work concludes with a heavy brass and percussion laden finale, set out in contrast to the fleet passage work of the soloists. 

Ms. Khitruk is joined by an able and expressive partner in Andrey Tchekmazov whose thick-fingered tone and versatile range of expression serve the music well. There is a good deal of audible sniffing and snorting from the soloist(s) in this work that is not present in the Violin Concerto, a habit that this writer has always found unnecessary, distracting and indeed downright annoying. Mr. Yablonsky delivers the same kind of tight ensemble playing, coupled with a warm unified string sound that he gave in the Violin Concerto. 

To summarize, these are works of high artistic merit and one can hope that they will appear more often in the concert halls of the world, particularly the violin concerto. 

Kevin Sutton

 

 

 


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