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Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Three Choral Suites: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings

Ben-Hur (1951) 1. Overture; 2. Star of Bethlehem/Adoration of the Magi; 3. Rowing of the Galley Slaves; 4. Alleluia; 5. Parade of the Charioteers; 6. Miracle and Finale [21:24]
Quo Vadis (1959) 7. Prelude; 8. Ave Caesar March; 9. Fertility Hymn; 10. Assyrian Dance; 11. Marcus and Lygia; 12. Miracle and Finale [18:01]
King of Kings (1961) 13. Overture; 14. Roman Legions; 15. Nativity; 16. The Feast of Passover; 17. Herod's Feast; 18. Miracles of Christ; 19. The Lord's Prayer; 20. Pieta; 21. Resurrection and Finale [22:29]
Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Craig Jessop
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra/Erich Kunzel
Rec. orchestra: Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 15-16 May 2004; choir: Maurice Abravanel Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah, 22 Oct 2004
DSD 2 Channel Recording 6 Channel Recording multichannel SACD as well as the CD recording
TELARC CD-80631 [61:54]

 

Here are three choral suites assembled from Rozsa’s luxurious film music soused in colour and atmosphere.

The source films are from an era long before CGI created the illusion of vast numbers, fantasy and epic spirit. Armies of extras and builders contributed to unapologetically awesome spectacle. Music played a key role in conjuring the grand illusion. Rozsa virtually wrote the text book and established the style. Aside from a weeping drooping sentimentality which must have gone down a treat with the producers and certainly drew in audiences, the music does not lack strength. Listen to ‘Rowing of the Galley Slaves’ (Ben-Hur) which has all the relentless power of his scores for the film noir movies of the fifties. ‘The Miracle’ and ‘Finale’ of Ben Hur radiates supercharged Hollywood spirituality just dripping syrup. The choral Quo Vadis has more backbone - almost Orff - but not quite. Rozsa was no slouch at barbaric rasping marches and the ‘Ave Caesar’ from Quo Vadis and ‘Roman legions’ are good examples. The sensuous ‘Fertility Hymn’ is a bit gung-ho but then perhaps the Mormon Tabernacle are not all that at ease with the subject matter. The ‘Assyrian Dance’ in fact has an Arabian flavour and pace and comes complete with with pipe and tabor sounds. The lengthy ‘Marcus and Lygia’ cue is well done but Kunzel could have made it even more languorous. ‘The Miracle and Finale’ again has the heavenly hosts in silvery vocalising form creating an aureole over the reflective chiming of the orchestra.

King of Kings has a substantial overture as does Ben-Hur. Both are pushed vigorously forward. One does however a note a diminution in invention from the really Hungarian accented imaginative strengths of Ben-Hur to the going-through-the-motions invention of King of Kings. In ‘The Feast of Passover’ (King of Kings) the music sounds authentically and fittingly Jewish. ‘Herod's Feast’ is superbly done. The manner was adopted, and I think topped, by Basil Poledouris in his ‘Bacchanale’ from the music for the first Conan film. ‘The Miracles’ movement is an improvement. It has depth - this is not awe-struck syrup but gives off a sense of otherworldly threat in the opening. There is something almost unnerving about the music - a subtle minatory mood.

Telarc do this sort of thing with style and we should be grateful that they have made real a project intended by the composer but never brought to fruition. The recording and microphone placement choices are well made though I have recently heard even better in the shape of a CD long on the market: Varese-Sarabande's McNeely directed complete score of Herrmann's ‘Marnie’ in which the RSNO and V-S made one of the best sounding albums I have ever heard ranking with Gerhardt's Waxman CD in the RCA-BMG Great Film Scores series. Rozsa completists have no choice and must snap up this album.

Perhaps next time Telarc will consider an even finer project: a disc of Rozsa’s two motets for chorus and organ Vanities of life (1967) and To Everything There Is A Season (1946). This is not to mention the Psalm 23 (1972) and the Three Chinese Poems (1977) - all by Rozsa.

The music has never sounded as princely despite the orchestra being recorded in one location and the chorus separately at another, all on different dates.

Rob Barnett

see also review by Ian Lace



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