May 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Miklós RÓZSA
Suite; Spellbound Concerto; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra
Danielle Laval (piano); Northern Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, Miskolc Conducted by László Kovács
VALOIS AUVIDIS (naïve) V 4841 [63:01]
Purchase from: Crotchet  Amazon UK  

Based on his own score for the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock production, Rózsa’s Spellbound concerto starts out as unequivocally romantic and yet because the story of the film centred around the lead character’s psychosis, an underlying darker tone gradually takes precedence and by the mid-way point we have truly descended into the heart of darkness. For me this is by far the best section of the piece, as it perfectly conjures the discord that can sometimes seize the human mind. The more routine romanticism that bookends it is less interesting however, although the finale itself stands up rather well.

The highlight of this CD though is unquestionably the suite from the multi-Oscar winning Ben Hur (including best score for Rózsa himself). Opening with the stunning ‘Prelude’, this is a rousing, majestic incorporation of the main themes from the film and in particular introduces the ‘Love Theme’ that is then expanded and given a fuller rendition in the next cue. A truly beautiful, emotional melody for strings and woodwind, this ranks as one of the great themes of cinema.

The next two pieces ‘Rowing of the Galley Slaves’ and ‘The Burning Desert’ drive along with a pounding urgency and are as fine an example of dramatic film music from this era as you are likely to hear. And when you think you have heard the best ‘The Mother’s Love’ proves beyond question what an incredible talent Rózsa really was with a heart-rending theme of real tenderness.

Finally ‘Parade of the Charioteers’ demonstrates his skill with fanfares, something that has been proven time and time again by his work on such historical blockbusters as Quo Vadis, King of Kings and El Cid. In fact, it could be argued that Rosza is the very voice of the movie epic. His sound and style have now become a part of our musical and cinematic consciousness.

Alongside his contemporary Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa was one of the true godfathers of film music, in the sense that his greatest work remains both timeless and influential. There is no sense of a style that has become outmoded or unsophisticated. Instead it sounds as fresh and original as it did when first heard.

To conclude the CD, Rózsa’s ‘Opus 31’, a work commissioned by pianist Leonard Pennario and completed in 1966, is given a full-blooded interpretation and makes a very interesting companion to his music written especially for film.

Made up of three movements, the first is the dark and dangerous ‘Allegro Energico’ with dissonant piano that is as intense as anything you are likely to find in his film work. Actually, this is similar to ‘Spellbound’ as it also evokes a sense of some troubled inner conflict.

‘Adagio’ features oboe and piano working together to bring to life a gentler theme, although there is still a sense of unrest with strings taking a firmer hold mid way through, before the piano is finally given its head in strident, incisive manner. This then subsides, fading out with genteel simplicity.

The tempo quickens with ‘Vigoroso’, the percussive and xylophone backing used to good effect. A number of different instruments take brief centre stage to create a mosaic of sound and although there are some respites, the tempo becomes steadily more manic, galloping on towards an almost frenzied conclusion.

For any established Rósza admirer this would appear to be a must-have. But also for those who have yet to discover this outstanding composer, this seems a very good place to start.

I suppose if there was a fault to be found with this collection it might be that for those who have more modern sensibilities, the two concertos are a little dense and demanding. But for those with an appreciation of more classical work or simply those looking to sample a taste of one the greatest film composers of the last century, they will certainly be in for a treat.


Mark Hockley

Ian Lace adds:-

The interest in this 1998 recording is that the orchestra is Hugarian (Rózsa was born in Budapest).

Their performance of this six-movement Ben-Hur Suite is generally very good; the majestic Prelude with those magnificent themes resounding splendidly. Kovács delivers a brilliant finale in which the ‘Parade of the Chariotteer’ fanfares really reach out and grasp you, and then there is a marvellously brutal ‘Rowing of the Galley Slaves’ with its accelerating cross-rhythms. The ‘Love Theme’ is sweetly eloquent too and ‘The Burning Desert’ nicely scorching, with that beatific music, most affecting, for the sequence where Jesus brings water to Ben-Hur.

The glamorous Danielle Laval attacks the bravura passages in the Spellbound concerto like a tigress and caresses the more delicate figures that end the Adagio of the Piano Concerto. Kovács eshews the theremin in the Spellbound concerto, opting for the same effect using brass and strings. This is a strong and enjoyable interpretation, full of romantic passion, if a little coarse-grained and wayward at times. The Piano Concerto fares even better. This is strong, diamond hard music more reminiscent of Rózsa’s film noire scores but with the more tender episodes very much akin to the Spellbound music.


Ian Lace


Mark Hockley

Ian Lace

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