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Don O’Connor
American Record Guide, July 2011

The overture makes a good starter: it’s a well-constructed piece with good themes and dramatic contrasts. The Cello Rhapsody (1929)…gets a capable performance. Of necessity, it comes off as a mini-concerto. The more familiar Hungarian Sketches get a good workout, and though more rhythmic precision would have helped, wind up in a rousing finale.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.



Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2011

Miklós Rózsa’s road to success was the same one traveled by a number of other composers who came to the U.S. in the 1930s and were snapped up by a Hollywood film industry hungry for new talent. Like Korngold, Rózsa (1907–95) became a movie studio favorite, composing the scores to approximately 100 films. Also like Korngold, Rózsa amassed a significant catalog of works for the concert stage, though unlike Korngold he wrote no operas.

A fair amount of Rózsa’s music may be found on record, but live performances of his concert works are still relatively infrequent. To add to the recorded side of the ledger, Naxos is working its way through a survey of Rózsa’s concert works, this being the third volume in the series to appear, and with it, a claimed coup: The Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra is said to be a world premiere recording.

Well, yes and no. True, this is its first recording as an orchestral work. However, sitting in my collection is a Laurel Record CD with Parry and Howard Karp performing the work in its cello and piano version. The early Rhapsody, written in 1929 upon Rózsa’s completion of studies at the Leipzig Conservatory, is the composer’s first published orchestral score. The Hungarian flavor of the melodic material, wedded to Rózsa’s strict Germanic formal academic training, emerges in this colorful 15-minute piece, which already demonstrates the young composer’s ear for striking orchestral sonorities and nascent talent for cinematic mood painting. Was Rózsa familiar with Bloch’s Schelomo? Many passages in the Rhapsody suggest that he was. While the scent in the air may be more of Magyars and their sturdy steeds than of Bedouins and their gamy camels, Rózsa’s piece is of similar construction, with the solo cello freely weaving its sometimes sullen, other times heroic tale over a richly tapestried orchestral mosaic. Mark Kosower, principal cello of the Cleveland Orchestra, seems to be an ideal advocate for the work.

Further reflecting Rózsa’s Hungarian roots are the Three Hungarian Sketches written 10 years later. The three movements that make up the piece—Capriccio, Pastorale, and Danza—were conceived separately but were brought together as a kind of symphonic suite for their first performance in 1939 at the International Music Festival in Baden-Baden. The Capriccio is a highly rhythmic, animated, loud, and brassy movement; if there’s any Hungarian in it, it’s a goulash that’s been filtered through Rózsa’s exposure to the music of Honegger and Les Six during his time in Paris. The beautiful Pastorale alternates two themes, the first a beautiful, lyrical song without words that rises to a passionate pitch; the second, a folk-inflected melody that evokes the droning of bagpipes at a peasant celebration. The concluding Danza has more than a little of Bartók’s hot Hungarian paprika in it to spice up this stomping peasants’ dance.

In 1956, despite his MGM contract providing him with lots of work, Rózsa took a breather to write the short Overture to a Symphony Concert in response to a request from one of his publishers. Though the 9-1/2-minute piece has no program, per se, Rózsa did state a year after its premiere in Düsseldorf that “the events of the Hungarian uprising, the tragic and dramatic experiences of the Hungarian people striving for liberation, had a bearing on the character of my music.”

Rózsa’s Hungarian Nocturne, composed in 1963, caused considerable consternation to its commissioner, Edward B. Benjamin. Benjamin was a wealthy southern gentleman and philanthropist whose generosity to the Eastman School of Music during Howard Hanson’s tenure there established a project aimed at encouraging young composers. There was a catch, though, to Benjamin’s largesse. His preference was for music that “charms and soothes.” And while the opening and closing sections of Rózsa’s Hungarian Nocturne may share some of the Impressionist tranquility of Debussy’s Nocturnes, the hardly calm central section of Rózsa’s work did not please Benjamin at all. The work he’d requested and presumably paid for was anything but charming and soothing.

Rózsa relates what happened at the premiere of the piece given by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1964. Benjamin sat next to Rózsa in the audience. “I cannot remain pianissimo for eight minutes,” Rózsa said. “As the music grew so did Mr. Benjamin’s unease, until the climax stirred him to a glare. Then, as the music subsided, the angelic smile returned. Afterwards he told me, very kindly, that somehow he could never make composers understand exactly what he wanted.” Lucky thing for Benjamin that he wasn’t around to commission one of Beethoven’s late works; had he said to Beethoven what he said to Rózsa, he might have lost some of his teeth. But then Rózsa had already been through the wringer with Heifetz over the composer’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Cello, which the violinist balked at because the cello, he claimed, had the dominant role. By the time Benjamin showed himself a dolt, Rózsa was well practiced in the art of diplomacy.

The Budapest Symphony Orchestra turns in sterling performances for Mariusz Smolij, and the stage for Naxos’s recording is wide and deep. A welcome and recommended addition to the catalog.



Guy Rickards
Gramophone, June 2011

Four colourful works from the Hungarian plains—including a premiere recording

Naxos’s trawl through Rózsa’s orchestral and concertante works reaches its third instalment with a real rarity: the premiere recording of the early Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, composed in 1929 at the end of Rózsa’s student days. It is an apprentice piece, undeniably, the mature voice not yet fully realised despite clear indications of what was to come. Its arch-form design encompasses swings of mood and pace that the later master would control with greater aplomb. Mark Kosower is the ardent soloist, ably supported by an orchestra founded (uniquely, I believe) by a State Railway!

Mariusz Smolij elicits fine playing from his musicians, though, in the superb Hungarian Sketches (1938, here in their revised form from the late 1950s), their orchestral style tends more to the cinematic than did the BBC Philharmonic, which has the tauter, more refined ensemble. Although the composer disavowed any programme for Overture to a Symphony Concert (1956, rev 1963), this darkly impressive piece owes much of its atmosphere to the events of the Hungarian Uprising. By contrast, the Hungarian Nocturne (1963) is more reserved in tone, a fine nature poem, largely (and uncharacteristically) quiet for much of its 10-minute span.

The performances, if a touch syrupy in tone, are well articulated and more than serviceable. Naxos’s sound is typically clear…this Naxos disc is a bargain at the price.



Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Rózsa’s four works in this disc cover a thirty-five year compositional span. The earliest is the 1929 Rhapsody, which doesn’t appear to have been recorded before. The cello enters lightly, indeed, in an almost English fokloric way—at points you might think this was Finzi, for example, in genial mood—though procedurally things are perhaps more attuned to Bartókian development and to the ethos of Bloch too. The little cadenza for the warm toned cellist Mark Kosower is accomplished well, and the vivace close employs brisk rhythmic material, quite angular and forward moving. It all makes for a somewhat unusual slice of Rózsa, but a very welcome one.

Just before the outbreak of World War 2, he completed the Three Hungarian Sketches; Capriccio, Pastorale and Danza. The first is an energetic affair, again hinting at Bloch-like sonorities, obviously folk-based, and well orchestrated. The pert wind writing is rather worthy of note. The Pastorale has considerable lyric depth and a real beauty, full of colour and incident—a country idyll of memorable concision and sense of projection. By contrast the last of the sketches is a fiery dance, with a full complement of bagpipe and fiddle drone, the whole ensemble swirling away wildly. There’s a solo violin moment and chugging basses into the bargain.

The brassy canonic flourish, with which the Overture to a Symphony Concert opens, promises frisson. We get it, but also more fractious writing too. Those little ascending, questioning lines and pounding brass and percussion statements may, indeed, as the composer himself noted, reflect something of his own feelings about the Hungarian Uprising of the previous year. But it’s not presented programmatically, though retrospectively one may perhaps adduce the urgent trumpet calls to the prevailing political circumstances in the country of his birth. Finally we have Notturno ungherese of 1963–64, which moves briskly from a sunset opening to a powerful brass led procession.

The recording is first class and the performances sound committed, idiomatic and sharply attuned to the composer’s sensibilities.



Cinemusical, February 2011

a new disc of Rózsa’s concert music from Naxos is well worth your time. While one can dismiss these works as influenced by Rózsa’s biblical epics, the works on this disc allow us to see that the composer was another valid Hungarian musical voice worth paying attention to along with Bartók and Kodály. The overture that opens the disc and the Hungarian Sketches that close are quite engaging works worthy of more concert appearances.



Cinemusical, February 2011

Miklos Rózsa’s place in musical history would be secure if only his music from Ben-Hur was his sole output. That film score came at the height of the composer’s time with MGM and after he had firmly established himself as the perfect film noir composer. Historical epics would be important in Rózsa’s career and his attention to meticulous research and musical detail is often what sets these scores as prime achievements of their kind. Rózsa, like other prominent Hollywood emigrant composers, also left a large body of concert work which continues to be represented on CD, especially since the centenary of his birth. Naxos has released one chamber music disc and two orchestral discs of which this latest one is the third.

Conductor Mariusz Smolij’s earlier release featuring the Viola Concerto is simply one of the best Rózsa releases featuring a quite gorgeous work. These recordings were made a while ago, but that should not be worth hesitation. For this release, Smolij balances early and mid-career works.

The earliest work represented here is the Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 3 (1929). This beautiful work, played superbly by Mark Kosower of the Cleveland Orchestra, is filled with lyrical melodies beginning with the opening cello solo. An arch-form piece, the Rhapsody is a good representative of early Hungarian orchestral music with those ethnic rhythmic ideas alongside a more traditional European orchestral sound. The work was Rózsa’s first published piece and it receives a dedicated performance here in what is one of the examples of the composer trying to discover his unique voice.

The disc opens with what is one of Rózsa’s strongest concert works, 1956’s Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op. 26a. Apart from its poor title, the work is a perfect example of the composer’s strong melodic writing and semi-modal style heard in his biblical epics. The opening contrapuntal fanfare grabs the attention and the work continues its strong emotional pull throughout. Pure concert music does not get quite as good as this and its accessibility should help make it a good repertoire piece. The other later work was composed on through a commission arranged by Eugene Ormandy. The Notturno ungherese, Op. 28 premiered with Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1963 concert season and is a work of quiet beauty (those gorgeous melodies could have come from King of Kings), though with a fabulously eerie climax. (The piece is actually connected to a project to create new music of a more tranquil variety primarily for Howard Hanson’s students at the Eastman Rochester School and later expanded to encourage contemporary works for other regional orchestras.)

The last, and most substantial work on the disc, is the three-movement Hungarian Sketches, Op. 14. The work was intended to pay homage to his homeland and this is accomplished through three distinct miniatures. The opening “Capriccio” features changing meters and that at times seem a bit influenced by Stravinsky’s Firebird. The following “Pastorale” is a great example of Rózsa’s orchestration. It features two themes as well and these move through perfect tone painting of which one highlight is the depiction of birds “singing” in three different keys. The final “Danza” is a study in rhythm with three primary sections a sort of fast dance, a more stable peasant dance and an exciting fanfare conclusion.

The performances by the Budapest orchestra are well-captured and there is a real shaping of the music here that shows a dedication from all concerned. The acoustic is also quite warm and the program helps to create plenty of contrast. Fans of Rózsa’s music will surely enjoy hearing some of the same musical gestures in these concert works that would become hallmarks of his style in his film music. It would be quite fascinating to hear the orchestra perform some of Rózsa’s film works as well but these are highly recommendable performances.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, February 2011

These are beautiful, energetic, colorful performances of music that is equally so. Miklós Rózsa’s concert music sounds just like his film music, and all of it sounds Hungarian, whether it’s called Ben-Hur or Three Hungarian Sketches. Mariusz Smolij certainly seems as though he’s enjoying himself, and the orchestra plays with the kind of uninhibited verve that this music really needs. In the Cello Rhapsody Mark Kosower sports an attractive timbre and he shapes the tunes with incisive rhythm and a nice feeling for the music’s melodic curves. Topping it all off: excellent engineering. There’s really nothing more to say. If you like Rózsa’s film music you’re going to enjoy this every bit as much.



James Manheim
Allmusic.com, February 2011

Hungarian-born composer Miklós Rózsa may always remain best known for his two decades of familiar film scores, from Double Indemnity to Ben Hur and even The Green Berets. He started out writing concert music, however, and even in the midst of writing epic four-hour film scores he continued to accept symphonic commissions. The story of the one for the lovely Hungarian Nocturne, Op. 28 (1964), is told in the booklet notes here; it was requested by a Southern American patron who wanted music that “charms and soothes,” a condition Rózsa only partly fulfilled. With large cycles of Rózsa works underway from the Chandos and Naxos labels, the composer’s star would seem to be on the rise. This disc partially duplicates the contents of a BBC Philharmonic recording made under conductor Rumon Gamba; here, Mariusz Smolij, leading the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, is a bit more leisurely, giving the orchestra’s horns two minutes of extra space in the Hungarian Serenade, Op. 25 (a work whose premiere was vigorously applauded by the aging Richard Strauss). They need it in the work’s high-energy finale, but really both recordings will serve the new Rózsa listener well here. Smolij catches the dark emotional undertone of the Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op. 26a, written in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956; this work is also shared with the BBC Philharmonic release. The only reason to choose that disc, or Smolij’s earlier release on Naxos, is to get either the Tripartita for orchestra, Op. 33 (Gamba) or the late and underrated Viola Concerto (Smolij); the Cello Rhapsody included here is a rather ponderous student work. But those collecting Rózsa’s orchestral works can be assured of fine, idiomatic performances throughout here, and the Hungaroton Studio sound, while perhaps not quite in the Chandos league, is all that could be desired.



Film Music: The Neglected Art, January 2011

After 71 years, Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra (Naxos 8.572285), his first published work written in 1929 is being given its world premiere performance. Like many of his classical works the material reflects the sounds and landscape of his homeland, Hungary. Even at this early age of 22 his sound and the way he developed his material we’re already taking place.

The fifteen minute work begins with a solo introduction from the Cello giving us an uncomplicated version of the main motives that will be fully developed in the two part single movement Rhapsody. The cello briefly gives way to the flute and very soft strings before the Cello returns with the full orchestra in a yearning but disturbing passage. The Cello continues this time offering more complexity as it offers combination after combination, developing but never repeating itself.

For an early work from a classical composer this is certainly not in the category of a youth composition done for exercise, far from it. While the Cello passages are not complex and certainly not a showcase for Yo-Yo Ma it is an especially exciting to hear a work never heard before from a favorite soundtrack/classical composer. The theme is so well developed that on each listen you’ll get more and more from this forgotten material.

The work is performed well by the Budapest Symphony with the Cello being played by Mark Kosower. Yet again this is a good example of Hungarian music being performed well by their fellow countrymen. Also included on the CD are Overture to a Symphony Concert, Three Hungarian Sketches, and Hungarian Nocturne.



Film Music: The Neglected Art, January 2011

It could be successfully argued that the concert material that Rózsa composed was every bit as good as his soundtrack material if not better. Overture to a Symphony Concert Naxos CD# 8.572285 is an outstanding example of this. Those who are familiar with his epic biblical scores will instantly recognize the style of the material he became known for from the time he spent in Hollywood. The work was composed in 1956, revised in 1963, and is dedicated to his fellow countryman, arranger, and orchestrator Eugene Zador. The revision of the work had to do with a shortening of the coda and also the publisher of his works was asking for a composition of a specific length and one could surmise that it was cut back for this reason.

Beginning with a trumpet fanfare followed by the rest of the brass section the lower strings carry the melody and a conflict begins. The overall mood is one of anger and dissonance. It is interrupted by a single flute that is playing the melody upbeat and positive but the conflict from the brass full of distorted warlike chords win out. The ending is abrupt as if the opus was created, developed, and then just ran out of energy and dies. This overture sounds like it could have come from any number of noir/biblical films and as a result is one that deserves to be in your collection if you’re a fan of his work. The work was well played by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and the recording session was top notch. I was impressed with the fact that there was an excitement and energy present in the symphony making you feel they were really enjoying playing the material.



Film Music: The Neglected Art, January 2011

It could be successfully argued that the concert material that Rózsa composed was every bit as good as his soundtrack material if not better. Overture to a Symphony Concert Naxos CD# 8.572285 is an outstanding example of this. Those who are familiar with his epic biblical scores will instantly recognize the style of the material he became known for from the time he spent in Hollywood. The work was composed in 1956, revised in 1963, and is dedicated to his fellow countryman, arranger, and orchestrator Eugene Zador. The revision of the work had to do with a shortening of the coda and also the publisher of his works was asking for a composition of a specific length and one could surmise that it was cut back for this reason.

Beginning with a trumpet fanfare followed by the rest of the brass section the lower strings carry the melody and a conflict begins. The overall mood is one of anger and dissonance. It is interrupted by a single flute that is playing the melody upbeat and positive but the conflict from the brass full of distorted warlike chords win out. The ending is abrupt as if the opus was created, developed, and then just ran out of energy and dies. This overture sounds like it could have come from any number of noir/biblical films and as a result is one that deserves to be in your collection if you’re a fan of his work. The work was well played by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra and the recording session was top notch. I was impressed with the fact that there was an excitement and energy present in the symphony making you feel they were really enjoying playing the material.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

A prodigy who was composing and performing as a concert violinist at the age of seven, Miklos Rozsa is today known for his musical backdrop to some of Hollywood’s great epic films. Hungarian by birth, it was a chance meeting in London with the film producer, Alexander Korda that began his work in the film industry. Come the onset of the Second World War, and the two sought refuge in the United States where he was to spend the remainder of a long life. Never having lost the desire to be accepted as a ‘serious’ composer, he made an agreement with his film company, MGM, that each year he would take a three month break from film studio work to fulfill that ambition. The four works on this new release are divided between the two sectors of his life, the earliest, a beautiful if rather meandering work for cello and orchestra, coming at the end of his time at the Leipzig Conservatory and showed the extent that German music had overtaken on his thoughts. Sumptuous, and hovering between Richard Strauss and Reger, it is in one movement of substantial length. Ten years later, in 1938, he began work on the Capriccio, Pastorale e Danza, which he later revised as the Three Hungarian Sketches. Sounding suitably folk influenced, it was easy to relate countryside pictures to each movement, the joyous finale becoming a flat-footed peasant dance. Almost twenty years later, he composed the Overture to a Symphony Concert, in a generalised late 19th century style, and the disc is completed by the Notturno ungherese from 1962 to an unlikely commission from the Tranquil Music Project in the States. Rozsa produced an outgoing score that hardly met their expectations.The principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra, Mark Kosower, is the disc’s estimable soloist, and the rather lightweight Budapest orchestra provides performances of many pleasures.






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