Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa, who studied composition in Leipzig with a pupil of Reger’s, Hermann Grabner (whose book on harmony is still used by unimaginative disciplinarians), and went on to spend several years in Paris and London before he emigrated to the USA at the beginning of the Second World War on account of his being Jewish, belongs to those composers who made their fortune with film music in Hollywood and who were consequently not taken seriously in the world of classical music any more (just like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who was a decade older than Rózsa). Someone who sweeps the board winning his third Oscar for his score to Ben-Hur cannot really be a brilliant genius, or is at least suspected of commercial involvement.
Rózsa, the cosmopolitan who loved Italy above all and brought forth in his music an interesting synthesis between the Hungarian idiom, German solidity and many influences from his surroundings, may not really have been a genius, but he certainly was a phenomenal expert whose music is undeniably inspired and personal. The quality of his music matches that of Korngold’s. His late work, including the brooding viola concert, is still hardly known, whereas some earlier works, notably those composed in the 1930s, are played time and again. His patrons, just like Korngold’s, include highly prominent virtuosi such as Jascha Heifetz, Gregor Piatigorsky or Janós Starker.
With this compilation of works Rózsa himself on the conductor’s podium gives us the chance to observe his orchestral development from 1933 until 1962. I do not count his early success Theme, Variations and Finale among his strongest compositions – for all its brilliance and catchiness – (I much prefer, for example, the work of the same title by Nicolas Flagello, composed more than two decades later, which is much more rarely performed and cannot boast a good recording), but this effective showpiece was performed by many great conductors and is well known even today, if only because Leonard Bernstein programmed it for his debut concert with the New York Philharmonic (the CD can still be found in some places). What is especially splendid, however, is its lucid 6th variation! The Three Hungarian Sketches, created in Rózsa’s London years, are, on the whole, much more personal and gripping, also more compact in their sound. In three sharply contrasting movements the composer unleashes his quite impetuous temperament, which at the same time he knows how to bridle in a superb way. Another very intense piece is the much rougher Overture to a Symphony Concert, in which we can hear in a somewhat more moderate way that Rózsa’s America also included composers like Hindemith, Piston, Martinu, or Mennin. In later years Rózsa confessed that the dramatic tone of the Overture was partly due to the quelled insurrection in his home country. The later Notturno Ungherese, very worthwhile for the solo clarinet, is a pastoral, introverted tone picture which shows the composer’s talent for the fine art of orchestral coloring.
Rózsa himself proves to be a rather ideal conductor of his own music, and the Roman RCA Orchestra played excellently under his baton on those three days of recording. The 1964 RCA sound technology wielded by engineer Anthony Salvatore sounds impressively clear and open, and Michael J. Dutton must certainly have worked a few miracles in remastering – as he has done so often – (which only those can judge who know the original LP). This compilation, licensed for Dutton’s label Vocalion of Sony Classical, uses the original booklet text, and accordingly the listener gets a spartan but tastefully designed and in any case excellent product, and – above all – authentic Rózsa.
Review by Christoph Schlüren at this Website called The New Listener: http://www.the-new-listener.de/index.php/2017/02/06/miklos-rozsa-als-exzellenter-dirigent-seiner-eigenen-musik/
[Added this because at least one reader took Ralph to be the writer! - JF]