Late in his career Miklós Rózsa resolved to arrange, as Choral Suites, parts of his scores for the trio of acclaimed M-G-M biblical epics: Quo Vadis (1951), Ben-Hur (1959) and King of Kings (1961). But he died before he could complete the work and it was left to friends, pupils and admirers to bring the project to fruition. Among them was the late and still very much lamented Christopher Palmer who conceived the Quo Vadis Suite included here (compiled and transcribed by Julian Kershaw and edited by Eric Kunzel and Joseph D. Price). The Ben-Hur and King of Kings Suites were arranged and reconstructed by Daniel Robins. Each of these arrangements is unobstrusively faithful to Rózsa’s distinctive style. The choral arrangements are particularly fine and the over-saccharine sentimentality, present in the M-G-M original soundtrack recordings (especially in the case of King of Kings) has thankfully been muted. The result is an album of highlights of the three scores that, for this reviewer at any rate, now supersedes the original soundtrack albums. [It should of course be noted that a number of the tracks in all three suites are orchestral only.]
The recorded sound is magnificent, the Cincinnati Orchestra shines and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir realise Rózsa’s rapturous music beautifully: the wordless women’s chorus lovingly tender in Rozsa’s sublime Ben-Hur and King of Kings nativity music, and the full choir reverentially awesome in the ‘Alleluia’ (Ben-Hur) and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (King of Kings).
It is interesting to compare Róza’s muscular orchestral writing for the music suggesting the might ofRome(all very much in the spirit of similar movements in Respighi’s three Roman tone poems). From Ben-Hur there is the wonderfully evocative crescendo ‘Rowing of the Galley Slaves’ the mind’s eye so easily visualising the cruelty of the Roman galley masters, whips in hands, as they bully their slaves into rowing faster and faster. Then there is the famous ‘Parade of the Charioteers’, the music so vividly suggesting the arrogance, pride and swagger ofRome. And the ‘Ave Caesar March’ from Quo Vadis and ‘Roman Legions’ from King of Kings both brilliantly evoking the formidable unrelenting might of the Roman legions. Rózsa’s colourful ethnic writing is evidenced in ‘Assyrian dance’ (Quo Vadis) and Herod’s Feast (King of Kings) both sinuous and sensuous underlining the films’ pagan elements.
The Telarc booklet notes are disappointing. Although there is good coverage of the life and career of Rózsa, and Kunzel and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there is no room left in its 12 pages for photographic stills from the films nor track-by-track analyses For we older fans such analyses might be irrelevant, for I guess we have become very familiar with them through repeated viewings since we first saw the films on their original theatrical releases, but for younger people or those unable to access TCM (Turner Classical Movies) these analyses would have been helpful.