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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
Booklet notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.570350 [65:40]


Experience Classicsonline

Like several other composers from central
Europe who left a troubled continent in the 1930s, the Hungarian Miklós Rózsa turned to writing music for films to make a living in his adopted countries. It was Arthur Honegger who suggested to Rózsa that he consider this path when the Hungarian arrived in Paris in 1931. From Paris, Rózsa went to London where he wrote his first film score – for compatriot Alexander Korda’s Knight Without Armour in 1936. In 1940 Rózsa was on the move again, accompanying Korda to California, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Rózsa became the most sought after and highly regarded composer in Hollywood and composed more than 100 film scores between 1940 and 1981. Among his most notable films were the Academy Award-winning Spellbound (1945) – which bore the famous Spellbound ConcertoA Double Life (1948) and Ben Hur (1959), as well as others such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961) and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1981). 

Such was Rózsa’s success in Hollywood that he took-off around three months of every year to devote time to his ‘serious’ compositions. As well as other émigré composers, Rózsa rubbed shoulders with the great soloists of the time such as Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. Rózsa approached Heifetz about writing a violin concerto for him, despite Schoenberg’s earlier lack of success in having Heifetz play his new concerto once it was complete. It was written very quickly – in six weeks during 1952. Heifetz obviously liked the new concerto and advised Rózsa on some of the finer points of the solo violin writing. The Concerto was finally performed in Dallas on 15 January 1956, with Heifetz’s famous – and, until the early 1990s, rather lonely – recording following soon afterwards. This is a very welcome issue; especially at Naxos’s budget price. It presents two of Rózsa’s most dramatic and idiomatic concerto works in full-blooded performances and with a recording to match.

The Violin Concerto is cast in three substantial movements very much in the mould of a great Romantic concerto such as the Brahms. Rózsa’s Hungarian roots are discernible throughout and this beautiful, lyrical work reminded me somewhat of a Magyar Barber Violin Concerto, with which it shares a wonderful melodic fluidity and sense of purpose. The soloist here is Anastasia Khitruk, a Russian émigré now living in the USA. She plays no second fiddle to the great Heifetz; hers is a big, warm tone, spot-on intonation and great musicianship. She is more than a match for Rózsa’s big-boned Concerto and its expansive lyrical writing.

The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Cello followed in 1958, written for again Heifetz and additionally Gregor Piatigorsky. However, it was not greeted with the same enthusiasm by Heifetz as the Violin Concerto, complaining that the cello had more of the limelight than the violin. Rózsa reworked the piece – even composing an entirely new slow movement – but Heifetz never warmed to it and the pair for whom the Sinfonia Concertante was written never performed it. Ironically, they did perform and record the original slow movement (a theme and variations) with Jean Martinon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One of the things which rankled with Heifetz was that the cello is the first of the soloists to be heard in each of the Sinfonia Concertante’s three movements; albeit in the last movement with only a brief run leading to the solo violinist’s first theme. Even in its revised state one feels the presence of the cello more strongly than that of the violin and one can only wonder about the effect that Piatigorsky would have had on the part. The cellist who joins Anastasia Khitruk here is Andrey Tchekmazov, who doesn’t seem to have any other CDs in the catalogue, despite his obvious mastery of his instrument.

The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under its conductor Dmitry Yablonsky plays excellently throughout and is well served by its Russian sound team. Although recorded in a studio, the sound has an openness and warmth that one would normally expect from a concert hall, allowing Rózsa’s music to resonate as it needs to. 

Derek Warby

see also Review by Kevin Sutton



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