Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song for violin and orchestra, Op. 4 (1929) [10:01]
The Vintner's Daughter - Twelve Variations on a French Folk Song, Op. 23a (1953) [16:36]
Notturno Ungherese, Op. 28 (1964) [8:30]
Cello Concerto, Op. 32 (1967-68) [30:01]
Paul Watkins (cello); Jennifer Pike (violin)
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 16-17 June 2009 and 16 June 2010 (Cello Concerto only)
CHANDOS CHAN 10674 [65:40]
Rozsa's orchestral music is being surveyed by several companies. Koch managed the largest slice in the 1990s: http://www.musicweb-international.com/rosza/rosza.htm
. CPO, Naxos and Chandos are on the scent.
Expectations were raised to quite some height by Chandos volume 1. Its successor does nothing to squash the track record. All credit to the Chandos Manchester team for the sound results and to Gamba and the musicians for the musical sensibility.
The Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song is an early piece and I think it shows. It’s appealing - there’s no doubting that - but it lacks the deeply founded mastery of the other works here. Think of it as a sort of later counterpart to the Sibelius Humoresques though again lacking the diamond ice perfection of those smilingly shivering miniatures. Much of this work is bathed in a sunset glow although there are some grim jaw-sets along with the firebrand scintillation of zigeuner friss. Jennifer Pike is suitably fervent and devilishly seductive of tone.
The Vintner's Daughter sequence is one of Rozsa’s most sheerly beautiful works. The second brief set of variations is for orchestra alone and dates from more than two decades later. It is very inventive and touching with Rozsa's mature mastery and honeyed romance showing both in his astute choice of theme nicely limned by the horns at the start and in the burnished romance of the violins at 3:30. His film music skills are fully in evidence but not in any overstuffed way. This is a most beautiful, intricate and haunting work achieving much in just over a quarter hour. The music is - as I said of volume 1 - more Kodály than Bartók: jangling magic and whispered intimacy in a folksy style. You find it in much the same latitude as the Peacock Variations and Háry Janos.
Just when I had been expecting Notturno Ungherese – which in fairness I have heard more than once over the years – to be a sort of mood-sequel to Kodaly’s Summer Evening I was brought up short. In fact this 1960s piece touches on Rozsa’s angst-ridden film noir psychosis. So be it. It’s a fine piece: Notturno Ungherese and Kodaly's Summer Evening still belong in the same folder. It gleams in a warm atomised spray - contented and hazed with radiant then gentle light. As with everything else here Gamba is in invincible form with biting attack and shimmering melodic material.
The single most extended piece here is the Cello Concerto. It is typically rhapsodic - a quality it shares with the 1953 Violin Concerto. The cello work is from the same years as the Piano Concerto: 1967-68 and was completed at Santa Margherita on the Italian Riviera. This is the latest piece here. It was premiered at the Berlin Festival in 1969 by the commissioner and dedicatee, János Starker. That performance was included on a rare Pantheon LP and cassette (FSM53901 and CA FSM53901) (not sure if it ever made it to CD) reminding us that Starker was teamed with Eliahu Inbal. worth tracking down for its connections with the dedicatee.
Other performances include one broadcast by Raphael Wallfisch (February 1995) with John Lubbock and the Ulster Orchestra, Brinton Smith’s 1997 commercial recorinig with Jame Sedares (part of the Koch Internatinal Rozsa project 3 7402 2H1) and Peter Rejto’s recording with the Gerard Schurmann concerto (also 1995) on Silva Screen SILKD 6011 with the Pecs Hungarian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Williams. The latter continues the film connection. Of all of these the most animated is the present disc which is superbly recorded. It may be my fault but I have always left the experience of hearing this concerto with a rather matte and dun impression. For the first time the music came to varied life. The playing in the devilish finale is smack-bang on the beat and grippingly predatory. This work has a buzzingly intense introspective obsession and in the hands of engineers, soloist, orchestra and conductor it leaps to vivid life. This is the recording of the Rozsa Cello Concerto.
Paul Watkins is given the prominence in the soundstage that is also enjoyed by Jennifer Pike. The sound overall is in Chandos's highest traditions of excellence with a grating burr on the brass and a ringing freshness to the many subtle percussion way-markers.
Small criticisms: the two variations based works would have benefited from having one track per variation.
High hopes fulfilled.
Rob Barnett
High hopes fulfilled.