Classical CD Reviews

MIKLÓS RÓZSA: Violin Concerto; Concerto for String Orchestra; Theme, Variations and Finale – Jennifer Pike, violin/ BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos

These very fine works will remind you of Bartok and are worth your time.

Published on January 30, 2013

MIKLÓS RÓZSA: Violin Concerto; Concerto for String Orchestra; Theme, Variations and Finale – Jennifer Pike, violin/ BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos

MIKLÓS RÓZSA: Violin Concerto; Concerto for String Orchestra; Theme, Variations and Finale – Jennifer Pike, violin/ BBC Philharmonic/ Rumon Gamba – Chandos Records CHAN 10738, 75:08 (Distr. by Naxos) ****:

Hungarian Miklós Rósza (1907-1995) was a very interesting composer whose career somewhat resembles that of Erich Korngold. Both composers became much better known and decidedly better paid for their film scores back when movie scores were big orchestral works that required a composer familiar with that “sound”. For example, Rózsa is probably best known to American audiences for his score to the epic Ben Hur starring Charlton Heston. However, many might be familiar with his music to the Hitchcock Spellbound. Rózsa wrote over fifty film scores; some massive, some a little smaller scale but – none the less – this is the genre he became known for, which is why this third volume in the Chandos set of his orchestral works is a great place to get to know his concert hall side.

The Violin Concerto, from 1953, is reason enough to own this disc. This is a wonderful very Bartok-like work (Rózsa being a contemporary of his countryman) with a pulsing, modal opening and a simply beautiful folk-like central movement and a driving finale that will again remind the listener of some Bartok (I felt there are echoes of the Concerto for Orchestra). This is a very “orchestral work” wherein the solo violin has plenty to do but, in several places, the orchestration is the show where the solo line sounds more like a solo violin within the larger framework. I really enjoyed this work and soloist Jennifer Pike is a terrific player.

The Concerto for String Orchestra, dating from 1943, offers similar pleasures. There is a fairly ominous opening featuring a bit of interplay between the low voice and the upper strings. The tone of this work is fairly dark throughout and it is said that Rózsa was undoubtedly affected by the war that was ravaging his homeland at the time. There are some truly dramatic outbursts, balanced by some very poignant and lovely solo lines for the violas and violins. Stylistically, this very fine work is also reminiscent of Bartok and – interestingly – it was actually premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under his direction, while he was in the midst of his film scoring career. (Rózsa died in LA and is buried there in fact).

This collection concludes with the Theme, Variations and Finale, a work from 1933 (later revised). Structurally this is just what the title implies: a very nice set of variations for full orchestra based on a theme which is first presented by the oboe. This work was written just at the time when Rózsa was leaving his family to settle in Paris; an event that offered very mixed feelings for the young composer. The variations within are cleverly scored and show a masterful use of orchestral color including some beautiful and esoteric use of percussion, harp and celesta in places. I found this a wonderful work that I compare most favorably to one of my other very favorite – and quite “Hungarian” – theme and variations compositions, the “Peacock” Variations of Kodaly.

I admit I am a sucker for the gypsy-infused sounds and modal melodies of the great twentieth century Hungarian composers: Bartok, Kodaly, Dohnányi and one should include Miklós Rózsa. I am anxious to track down the other volumes in this collection. This is very enjoyable music and big compliments go to the amazing conductor Rumon Gamba, too. I am very familiar with the terrific recordings put out by Gamba and his Iceland Symphony (which must be heard to be believed) but this disc confirms that this conductor should become better known in America as well. He is a major talent and this music is a major pleasant surprise! [I too am a fan of Rozsa’s music and it is great that the concert hall side of his work is getting attention, similar to the other filmscore composer Nino Rota...Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs




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