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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.