July 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Miklós RÓZSA
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.
Theme and Varaiations for Violin, Cello and Orcherstra

Robert McDuffie (violin), Lynn Harrell (cello)
Yoel Levi conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
TELARC CD-80518 [71:48]
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Even when he wrote chamber or instrumental music Miklós Rózsa did not write small, and the two concertos and 'theme and variations' on this disc offer big, thoroughly idiomatic, Rózsaian music. Known, if at all, to the general public as the man who wrote the music for Ben-Hur, El Cid, Quo Vadis, unlike many 'film composers' Rózsa never abandoned the concert hall, hence the title of his autobiography, A Double Life. And like the best composers, he wrote appropriately to the medium in his own instantly recognisable style. So, if you love the music of Miklós Rózsa you will be thoroughly at home here. I shall nail my colours to the mast so you may begin taking pot-shots: Rózsa was the finest film composer in history, and his concert works deserve to see him established as one of the major 20th century 'serious' composers. All three works here are marvellous advocates for his acceptance.

The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op 24 dates from 1956. Despite the composer's claim in his autobiography that he always had been concerned to prevent the two parallel lines of his career meeting, elements from the concerto may be familiar from the savaged remains of a possible Billy Wilder film masterpiece, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1969) (the corpse remaining after studio butchery is currently in rotation in it's 'scope ratio on Film Four). We can assume that Rózsa reworked some of this violin music for the great violin-playing detective, not because he held his own work in such low regard that he felt no shame in recycling it into 'mere movie music', but because he took cinema seriously. After all, this is no isolated incidence. Parts of the Viola concerto, Op 37 and the score for Time After Time (1979) are close to identical.

The violin concerto was written for Heifetz, and premiered by him in Dallas on January 15, 1956. It is wonderfully rich and boldly romantic music, clearly influenced by the folksong of Rózsa's native Hungary, and full of vigour and thrillingly explosive writing. Just try the finale to the opening Allegro non troppo ma passionato. Robert McDuffie plays as if his life depended upon it, and the result is exhilarating.

The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 32 was written 12 years later for János Starker. There is a really ferocious energy to this score, a work full of dynamic fury and impassioned romanticism. Epic in every sense, Rózsa's orchestrations demand riveted attention while the endlessly questing, probing, interrogative solo line refuses to let go. Lynn Harrell offers deeply lyrical, yet where necessarily utterly commanding playing. A hero of legend leading his forces into battle. The closing Allegro vivio is indomitable.

The Theme and Variations for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29a (1958) unites the soloists in a single movement lasting 12 minutes. Due to complex circumstances, the piece is actually a re-orchestrated version of the central movement from the Sinfonia concertante, Op29. Again, this is folk-like, rapturously melodic music, the variations moving through various moods from the argumentative to sweeping romance to a final calm.

Throughout, the playing and sound are first-rate, both appropriately full of summer fire. If you don't know the music of Miklós Rózsa this album is a great place to start. Imagine a composer comparable to Bax, Bartók, Rachmaninov, and start to explore. If you are familiar with Rózsa you need no recommendation from me. Just enjoy one of the most thrilling releases of the year so far.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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