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Strings Magazine, December 2008

Though remembered today mainly for his film scores (Spellbound, Double Indemnity), Miklós Rózsa (1907–1995) was a successful composer long before Hollywood made him famous. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory and had published several compositions when his promising career was aborted by the Nazis. Born in Budapest, Hungary, he was exposed to local peasant music from childhood at the family’s summer country home. Unlike his models, Bartók and Kodály, he never collected folk material, but it exerted a permanent influence on his style.

The four works recorded here are impressive. In Op. 4 and 5 (1929), Rózsa uses actual folk melodies. In the Variations, a simple theme is followed by 13 alternately song–like and dance–like variations, using effects like pizzicato, harmonics, and chords. Bartók’s Romanian Dances cast their shadow on the Peasant Songs and Dances, which range from wistful and delicate to forceful and pungent. The Duo, Op. 7 (1931), is a partnership of two equal instruments. The first movement is slow, hesitant, with lush, melancholy tunes; the second is an ironic Scherzo with a very Hungarian trio; the third is a lamentation; the last a rousing dance.

The Violin Solo Sonata (1985–86) is one of Rózsa’s late single–instrument works, written after he became too ill to handle scores for large ensembles and had stopped composing for films. In three movements, it is complex, restless, and abrasive, with dissonances, tritones, and slashing chords. The middle movement’s variations hardly resemble the theme. It demands utmost virtuosity of the player, with runs into the stratosphere, double–stops, bravura bowings, and sudden character changes.

The ubiquitous Quint handles all these challenges with consummate ease and flair. He is a splendid violinist. His technique is brilliant, his tone intense and strikingly beautiful, and he plays with genuine expressiveness and idiomatic identification. Wolfram, a fine pianist, is an empathetic partner.

Robert Maxham
Fanfare, May 2008

…Quint plays all these works with panache in their pyrotechnic sections as well as in their soaringly melodic ones; and though he remains center stage most of the time (in the music as well as in the recorded sound), William Wolfram collaborates in recreating the composer’s Hungarian world…above all, there’s that overwhelmingly effective Solo Sonata…Very strongly recommended, especially for the adrenaline-laced readings of the earliest and latest pieces—and, of course, for the repertoire itself.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Miklós Rózsa is world-famous as one of the great Hollywood composers, with a film career of over fifty years. But before and after his work in films, and during, he was also a well-received composer of concert works, especially in the instrumental field. This disc contains music from both his student days and from the end of his career when disability forced him to produce a series of pieces for solo instruments.

The Variations, Duo and North Hungarian Peasant Songs were all written when Rózsa was a student at the University of Leipzig; although he was considered so proficient that he would take over the classes of his teacher Hermann Grabner in the latter’s frequent absences. All three exhibit a style which will be familiar to devotees of Bartók and Kodály although it is never quite as experimental. It is one in which the folk element is completely absorbed in the service of an individual voice. The Variations consists of thirteen alternating song-like and dance-like variations on a real folk theme. I found the fourth and sixth variations the most interesting, although the ninth is very fine technically. The finale is a true tour-de-force for the soloist, which Quint handles in true Hungarian style without overdoing it.

The North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances—also known as the Little Suite—is the only other work on the disc based on actual folk material. It is a four-movement suite in a slow-fast-slow-fast pattern. Though written at the same time as the Variations this is more impressionistic in tone, with a wistful first section. The allegro is jaunty, not very folksy, and quite amusing. The basic material of the andante will be familiar to many listeners and Rózsa subjects it to some imaginative modulations and alterations. Finally we have an allegro giocoso, again based on familiar material, with an extremely eloquent middle section. It should be noted that both this work and the Variations exist in versions with orchestral accompaniment.

The most interesting of the early works here present is the Duo Op.7. No folk themes are quoted but the folk accent is fully integrated as the young composer proves himself capable of producing a strong musical statement without falling back on either folk music formulae or the styles of his mighty predecessors mentioned above. The work is more or less in the four movements of a sonata with the opening sonata-allegro developing two imaginative themes. The second movement is an allegro giusto, not as interesting as the opening movement, but well-constructed. The following largo is the highlight of the piece, fully mature and with a fine middle section that prefigures the cinematic and concert Rózsa. The finale is also impressive, though more traditional, but a good handling of rondo-form and with some very imaginative moments.

In the last ten years of his life Rózsa not only ceased writing for films but a combination of diseases caused him to limit himself to writing works for various solo instruments. The most substantial of these is the present Sonata for Solo Violin. Large-scale works for single strings have been the undoing of more than one composer, but Rózsa not only produces a fine piece of music, but one that belies any fears the listener might have about this particular medium. However, the Rózsa heard in this piece is very different from that of the other works on this disc. Fifty years have produced greater proficiency but they have also produced a sad and desperate quality not seen in the works before the composer’s later years.

The sonata’s first movement is motivic in construction and still betrays the odd Hungarian element. The motivic development makes one forget that this is a single instrument playing, but it strengthens the sense of desperation mentioned above. The variations of the canzone con variazione can only be described as greatly extended or far from the theme, somewhat like Dukas’ famous set of variations. But the further they get from the theme the richer they get in emotional texture. As a whole they are uneasy in feeling rather than desperate, but compositionally this movement is the most interesting of the three. The tempo marking of the last movement is vivace and it truly is lively. There are two themes with the second being extremely lovely and both being expertly handled. There are moments when one is reminded of the last movement of the Violin Concerto by Rózsa’s colleague Korngold, but this movement ends up being the most Hungarian of the three with a brilliant finish.

While other recordings of these works are presently in the catalogues it is doubtful that any of them can outdo Philippe Quint with his combination of technical ability and subdued feeling for the composer’s native idiom. The normally estimable William Wolfram is perfectly competent here but seems less than totally committed to the Rózsa ethos. Certainly having all these works on one disc and at a low price is a great incentive to purchase it. The recording venues are a little dry and this does detract from the overall experience but I do not consider this a major drawback if one is considering buying this record.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2007

This is the second Naxos disc that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth in Hungary of Miklos Rozsa. Now more popularly remembered as a composer of many film scores, his musical life started at the age of seven as a prodigy composer and violinist, his mature studies as a composer having taken place in Leipzig. It was a visit to London where he met the film producer Alexander Korda that sparked an interest in work for the cinema. He left with Korda at the outset of the Second World War to seek refuge in Hollywood and settled in the United States for the remainder of his life. His contract with MGM film studio stipulated a three month break in each year so that he could concentrate on his ‘serious’ composing, but the works on this disc come at each end of that part of his career. As a young man he had heard people working in his village and singing folk songs, and it was on those that he based his North Hungarian Peasant Songs and Dances completed in 1929. Cast in four contrasting movements, they are absolutely charming, their neglect all the more strange when you hear this superb performance. Written at much the same time, the Duo contains a degree of folk influences, but whereas the Songs and Dances are a tightly structured work, this one does have a tendency to lose shape. He had turned his back on Hollywood by the time he set to work on the Sonata, though by now he had a degenerative illness. It did not dull his musical ideas, the Sonata, shaped in a three movements, not a showpiece in the accepted sense but a score that demands a player with a remarkable technique. We could safely describe the Russian-born Philippe Quint as a complete violinist, his innate musicianship matched by a technique of supreme accomplishment. In the 1723 ‘Ex-Kiesewetter’ Stradivari he has the magnificent instrument his playing so richly deserves. William Wolfram is much on the Hungarian wavelength and the sound engineers have performed their function with distinction. Fervently recommended.

Arthur Kaptainis
Montreal Gazette, October 2007

Naxos strikes again, with a fascinating collection of violin works by Miklos Rozsa (1907–1995), whose day job for 46 years was producing scores to such films as Spellbound and Ben-Hur. The early post-conservatory items from Europe are written in a folkish style reminiscent of, though less gritty than, Kodaly and Bartok. Bartok again comes to mind, along with Eugene Ysaye, in the Solo Sonata of 1986, written after Rozsa had given up the silver screen. It is a vibrant and challenging piece in a chromatic language that is by no means cinema-schmaltzy. Philippe Quint, a young Russian-American, makes an affirmative case for the music. A must-have for fiddle fans.

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