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Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Music for Violin and Piano
Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song Op. 4 (1929) [9:30]
Duo for Violin and Piano Op.7 (1931) [17:54]
North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances Op. 5 (1929) [9:29]
Sonata for Solo Violin Op. 40 (1986) [23:29]
Philippe Quint (violin); William Wolfram (piano)
rec. 5-7 January 2007, Glenn Gould Studio, CBC Toronto (Variations, Duo and North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances) and St. John Chrysostom Church, Newmarket, Ontario (Sonata) DDD
Full text enclosed
NAXOS 8.570190 [60:32] 


Miklós Rózsa is world-famous as one of the great Hollywood composers, with a film career of over fifty years. But before and after his work in films, and during, he was also a well-received composer of concert works, especially in the instrumental field. This disc contains music from both his student days and from the end of his career when disability forced him to produce a series of pieces for solo instruments. 

The Variations, Duo and North Hungarian Peasant Songs were all written when Rózsa was a student at the University of Leipzig; although he was considered so proficient that he would take over the classes of his teacher Hermann Grabner in the latter’s frequent absences. All three exhibit a style which will be familiar to devotees of Bartók and Kodály although it is never quite as experimental. It is one in which the folk element is completely absorbed in the service of an individual voice. The Variations consists of thirteen alternating song-like and dance-like variations on a real folk theme. I found the fourth and sixth variations the most interesting, although the ninth is very fine technically. The finale is a true tour-de-force for the soloist, which Quint handles in true Hungarian style without overdoing it. 

The North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances - also known as the Little Suite - is the only other work on the disc based on actual folk material. It is a four-movement suite in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern. Though written at the same time as the Variations this is more impressionistic in tone, with a wistful first section. The allegro is jaunty, not very folksy, and quite amusing. The basic material of the andante will be familiar to many listeners and Rózsa subjects it to some imaginative modulations and alterations. Finally we have an allegro giocoso, again based on familiar material, with an extremely eloquent middle section. It should be noted that both this work and the Variations exist in versions with orchestral accompaniment. 

The most interesting of the early works here present is the Duo Op.7. No folk themes are quoted but the folk accent is fully integrated as the young composer proves himself capable of producing a strong musical statement without falling back on either folk music formulae or the styles of his mighty predecessors mentioned above. The work is more or less in the four movements of a sonata with the opening sonata-allegro developing two imaginative themes. The second movement is an allegro giusto, not as interesting as the opening movement, but well-constructed. The following largo is the highlight of the piece, fully mature and with a fine middle section that prefigures the cinematic and concert Rózsa. The finale is also impressive, though more traditional, but a good handling of rondo-form and with some very imaginative moments. 

In the last ten years of his life Rózsa not only ceased writing for films but a combination of diseases caused him to limit himself to writing works for various solo instruments. The most substantial of these is the present Sonata for Solo Violin. Large-scale works for single strings have been the undoing of more than one composer, but Rózsa not only produces a fine piece of music, but one that belies any fears the listener might have about this particular medium. However, the Rózsa heard in this piece is very different from that of the other works on this disc. Fifty years have produced greater proficiency but they have also produced a sad and desperate quality not seen in the works before the composer’s later years. 

The sonata’s first movement is motivic in construction and still betrays the odd Hungarian element. The motivic development makes one forget that this is a single instrument playing, but it strengthens the sense of desperation mentioned above. The variations of the canzone con variazione can only be described as greatly extended or far from the theme, somewhat like Dukas’ famous set of variations. But the further they get from the theme the richer they get in emotional texture. As a whole they are uneasy in feeling rather than desperate, but compositionally this movement is the most interesting of the three. The tempo marking of the last movement is vivace and it truly is lively. There are two themes with the second being extremely lovely and both being expertly handled. There are moments when one is reminded of the last movement of the Violin Concerto by Rózsa’s colleague Korngold, but this movement ends up being the most Hungarian of the three with a brilliant finish. 

While other recordings of these works are presently in the catalogues it is doubtful that any of them can outdo Philippe Quint with his combination of technical ability and subdued feeling for the composer’s native idiom. The normally estimable William Wolfram is perfectly competent here but seems less than totally committed to the Rózsa ethos. Certainly having all these works on one disc and at a low price is a great incentive to purchase it. The recording venues are a little dry and this does detract from the overall experience but I do not consider this a major drawback if one is considering buying this record.

William Kreindler



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