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Miklós RÓZSA (1907-1995)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 38 [20:39]
String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22 [24:20]
String Trio, Op. 1 (original published version)* [30:00]
Tippett Quartet (John Mills* and Jeremy Isaac (violins), Julia O’Riordan (viola), Bozidar Vukotic (cello))
rec. St Paul’s Church, Southgate, London, UK, 22-24 November 2011. DDD
* World première recording in this version
NAXOS 8.572903 [75:07] 

The three works on this disc date from various periods of the composer’s career as a concert composer. The trio, originally 45 minutes long, was Rózsa’s first published effort while the String Quartet No. 1 dates from 1950 when the composer was settling into a long association with MGM Studios. The Quartet No. 2 was the last piece Rózsa composed before beginning the series of solo sonatas that were his final works.
 
The String Trio naturally shows a young composer’s desire to make a big impression, but also demonstrates a sense of austerity that would characterize the composer’s chamber music throughout his career. This is balanced by a nostalgic wistfulness, also characteristic of Rózsa, that permeates the first two movements and by a barely restrained emotionalism in the largo. In all this makes a good start to a musical career.
 
More than twenty years later Rózsa produced his emotionally varied first string quartet. The opening movement comprises contrasting meditative and agitated sections while the scherzo starts off in dance-like fashion but gives way to ominous, spectral harmonies. This atmosphere continues in the third movement, played con sordino throughout, although the composer’s sense of nostalgia is also in evidence. Conflict recurs in the final Allegro feroce, this time between propulsive dance sections and contrasting wistful ones.
 
As said above, the Quarter No. 2 belongs to the composer’s later years when his music became somewhat more direct and dissonant. Like the first quartet it begins with a conflict between agitated and meditative sections but here the agitation is primary. Austerity again comes to the fore in the slow movement where the two violins contend with the viola and cello - the four instruments hardly playing at all as an ensemble. Both of the succeeding movements are dynamic, especially the Allegretto vivo, with contrast provided in the latter by a searching central section.
 
The Tippett Quartet plays these works with great fervour and with a fine understanding of the differing characteristics of the phases of Rózsa’s career. Especially notable are Julia O’Riordan’s playing in the Trio and Bozidar Vukotic’s in both quartets. The sound quality for all three pieces is quite good and overall this disc overshadows its main competition [see review], although there was also a fine recording on ASV by the Flesch Quartet that may still be obtainable [see review]. For all Rózsa fans.
 
William Kreindler 

Previous review: Steve Arloff