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Miklós RÓZSA (1907 - 1995)
Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song Op.4 (1929) [10:01]
The Vintner's Daughter Op.23a (1953) [16:36]
Notturno Ungherese Op.28 (1964) [8:30]
Cello Concerto Op.32 (1967/8) [30:01]
Jennifer Pike (violin: Variations); Paul Watkins (cello)
BBC Philharmonic/Rumon Gamba
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 16 June 2010 (Cello Concerto) and 16-17 June 2009 (other works)
CHANDOS CHAN 10674 [65:40]

Experience Classicsonline

Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song Op.4 is a fairly early work but the music already displays many Rózsa fingerprints. These include his liking for the variation form and a musical idiom with an unmistakable Hungarian character. This may be a truism when speaking about a work based on a folk song but this is also true when discussing either his more abstract concert music or his film music. The Variations Op.4 exists in two versions: one for violin and piano (a recording of it is available on Naxos 8.570190) and the present one for violin and orchestra. This is a colourful piece full of lively rhythms and attractive melodic touches and the scoring is quite assured. 

Originally composed for piano The Vintner's Daughter Op.23a is yet another set of variations this time on a French folk song. Andrew Knowles' detailed and well informed insert notes mention that the score is prefaced with the eponymous poem by the Swiss poet Juste Olivier. The twelve verses relate the tale of the dream of the vintner's daughter. The expressive character of each of the twelve variations more or less reflects the various moods suggested by the poem. The end result is another vivid, superbly scored piece that has - deservedly - become one of Rózsa's most popular concert works. 

Notturno Ungherese Op.28
, completed in 1962, was composed on commission from a certain Mr Benjamin, a Southern millionaire who, every year, commissioned a piece for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Eugene Ormandy recommended Rózsa who was allowed to write what he liked “as long as it remained quiet”. I cannot resist telling the rest of the story as recounted by the composer in his memoirs and mentioned in the insert notes. At the premiere Benjamin's face was a picture of serenity as the piece began, but became one of consternation as the piece reached its climax. Once a mood of calm was restored the serene look returned. After the performance Benjamin kindly told Rózsa that he never could make composers understand exactly what he wanted! Anyone who has heard the piece will know that the outer sections suggest a clearly nocturnal mood and that they frame some more impassioned climactic episodes. 

Rózsa's concertos are all fairly substantial and deeply serious but the Cello Concerto is undoubtedly one of his more powerfully expressive statements. It seems to confirm my theory that composers often confide their deepest feelings and emotions to their cello concertos. Rózsa's Cello Concerto Op.32 is no exception. The mood is troubled, at times forcefully dramatic and rather austere. The apparently more relaxed feeling of the slow movement does not succeed in dispelling the prevailing gloom. The third movement is a technical tour de force and the music reverts to the restlessness of the first movement and turns it into a savage dance. This is interrupted by a short eerie section suddenly cut short by a restatement of the main material. We are eventually led to “a final crashing chord from soloist and orchestra”. Again Rózsa's Cello Concerto is a magnificent piece that should be heard more often. However, it is worth noting that this is the third recording of it, at least to my knowledge. Earlier recordings were on Koch 3-7402-2H1 by Brinton Smith, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Sedares (probably no longer available now) and on Silva SILKCD 6011 by Peter Retjó, the Pecs Hungarian Symphony conducted by Howard Williams (probably no longer available now too). Although these earlier inscriptions have been more than serviceable in making this marvellous work available, they cannot compete with this new recording either in terms of general playing or in terms of recorded sound. Paul Watkins plays superbly throughout with immaculate playing and committed musicality and the BBC Philharmonic partners him wholeheartedly. I would also like to single out Andrew Knowles' excellent and detailed insert notes - an asset yet again. 

Hubert Culot 

See also review by Rob Barnett

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