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Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, Op.37 (1979) [36:26]
Hungarian Serenade, Op.25 (1945) [24:03]
Gilad Karni (viola)
Budapest Concert Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij
rec. studio 22 of Hungarian Radio, Budapest, Hungary, 7-10 November 2007.
NAXOS 8.570925 [60:41]
Experience Classicsonline

Miklós Rózsa was a truly remarkable composer. He left Hungary at the age of 18 in 1925 and, apart from a brief visit in 1974, never set foot again in his native country. Even so, his music carries an absolutely genuine and immediately identifiable Hungarian imprint. To quote the composer himself “the music of Hungary is stamped indelibly one way or another on virtually every bar I have ever put on paper”. When no feature work appeared in Paris where he’d gone from his studies at Leipzig Conservatoire he took up writing music for films at the suggestion of Arthur Honegger. He first tried his luck in London where his debut score was for Knight Without Armour for Sir Alexander Korda in 1937. By 1940 he had become Korda’s “one man music department”. He went to Hollywood, as he thought for a month or so, to put the finishing touches to his score for The Thief of Baghdad. He ended up remaining there for the rest of his life, dying in California 55 years later.

This disc presents two works from each end of his composing career, the viola concerto of 1979 being his last orchestral work. It has an overall dark feel to it more akin to Bartók than to Kodaly whose music the other work here, The Hungarian Serenade, more closely resembles. Opening with a brooding theme almost immediately taken up by the soloist, who is called upon to play virtually without a break throughout. The concerto has a sweeping momentum that demands attention and passionate themes that are full of emotion. Lovers of Hungarian themes will particularly enjoy the concerto as they are very much to the fore here as they are in all his works. Peasant dances and folk-style fiddling abound. Gilad Karni is a great soloist who obviously relishes his role here. The orchestra give committed support. This concerto proves yet again that the viola does not deserve the reputation it has for being second rate in comparison with the violin. Here it is called upon to perform beautiful phrases and heart-felt ideas.
The Hungarian Serenade which dates from 1945 had a long gestation to arrive at its present completed state. It began life as a piece for string orchestra simply entitled Serenade. The premiere came in 1932 at the opera house in Budapest under Bruno Walter. There it received furious applause from none other than Richard Strauss who was there with the wife of Dohnányi,. The work went through several revisions which included removing the final march and its replacement by a lively dance. It teems with folk-inspired music and shows once again how emotionally tied Rózsa was to his native land. It receives a wonderful performance from this orchestra which began its life as one founded in 1945 by Hungarian State Railways! The first in a Chandos series of the orchestral works of Rózsa recently reviewed also includes the Hungarian Serenade.
If proof is still required by some that Rózsa was a master composer whose reputation should not be confined to his fabulous film scores then this disc is one more salvo in that argument.
Steve Arloff


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