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Susan Pierotti
Stringendo, September 2008

Romantic and dramatic, the violin concerto is a wonderful vehicle for Khitruk, who relishes the opportunities it gives her to demonstrate her robust power and expressive capabilities. …This piece has restless energy and drive with some thoughtful moments and sonorous harmonies. They are both attractive and exciting works that deserve to be better known.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

Naxos also delivers the famous Violin Concerto by Miklos Roza (1907-1995), written for Jascha Heifetz, in a superb performance by violinist Anastasia Khitruk and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, under Dimitry Yablonsky (8.570350). The quality of these two releases demonstrates that Naxos bargain prices are no obstacle to the very finest quality.

Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, July 2008

Like several other composers from central Europe who left a troubled continent in the 1930s, the Hungarian Miklós Rózsa turned to writing music for films to make a living in his adopted countries. It was Arthur Honegger who suggested to Rózsa that he consider this path when the Hungarian arrived in Paris in 1931. From Paris, Rózsa went to London where he wrote his first film score – for compatriot Alexander Korda’s Knight Without Armour in 1936. In 1940 Rózsa was on the move again, accompanying Korda to California, where he would remain for the rest of his life. Rózsa became the most sought after and highly regarded composer in Hollywood and composed more than 100 film scores between 1940 and 1981. Among his most notable films were the Academy Award-winning Spellbound (1945) – which bore the famous Spellbound ConcertoA Double Life (1948) and Ben Hur (1959), as well as others such as The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Ivanhoe (1952), El Cid (1961) and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1981).

Such was Rózsa’s success in Hollywood that he took-off around three months of every year to devote time to his ‘serious’ compositions. As well as other émigré composers, Rózsa rubbed shoulders with the great soloists of the time such as Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky. Rózsa approached Heifetz about writing a violin concerto for him, despite Schoenberg’s earlier lack of success in having Heifetz play his new concerto once it was complete. It was written very quickly – in six weeks during 1952. Heifetz obviously liked the new concerto and advised Rózsa on some of the finer points of the solo violin writing. The Concerto was finally performed in Dallas on 15 January 1956, with Heifetz’s famous – and, until the early 1990s, rather lonely – recording following soon afterwards. This is a very welcome issue; especially at Naxos’s budget price. It presents two of Rózsa’s most dramatic and idiomatic concerto works in full-blooded performances and with a recording to match.

The Violin Concerto is cast in three substantial movements very much in the mould of a great Romantic concerto such as the Brahms. Rózsa’s Hungarian roots are discernible throughout and this beautiful, lyrical work reminded me somewhat of a Magyar Barber Violin Concerto, with which it shares a wonderful melodic fluidity and sense of purpose. The soloist here is Anastasia Khitruk, a Russian émigré now living in the USA. She plays no second fiddle to the great Heifetz; hers is a big, warm tone, spot-on intonation and great musicianship. She is more than a match for Rózsa’s big-boned Concerto and its expansive lyrical writing.

The Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Cello followed in 1958, written for again Heifetz and additionally Gregor Piatigorsky. However, it was not greeted with the same enthusiasm by Heifetz as the Violin Concerto, complaining that the cello had more of the limelight than the violin. Rózsa reworked the piece – even composing an entirely new slow movement – but Heifetz never warmed to it and the pair for whom the Sinfonia Concertante was written never performed it. Ironically, they did perform and record the original slow movement (a theme and variations) with Jean Martinon and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. One of the things which rankled with Heifetz was that the cello is the first of the soloists to be heard in each of the Sinfonia Concertante’s three movements; albeit in the last movement with only a brief run leading to the solo violinist’s first theme. Even in its revised state one feels the presence of the cello more strongly than that of the violin and one can only wonder about the effect that Piatigorsky would have had on the part. The cellist who joins Anastasia Khitruk here is Andrey Tchekmazov, who doesn’t seem to have any other CDs in the catalogue, despite his obvious mastery of his instrument.

The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under its conductor Dmitry Yablonsky plays excellently throughout and is well served by its Russian sound team. Although recorded in a studio, the sound has an openness and warmth that one would normally expect from a concert hall, allowing Rózsa’s music to resonate as it needs to.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, March 2008

…Anastasia Khitruk is better than good; she’s phenomenal. She projects her powerful tone with a flinty gleam but without a hint of grit, and she tosses off Rózsa’s most demanding passages with sure-fingered, unruffled composure. …The Russian Philharmonic players too, under the able direction of Dmitri Yablonsky, sound quite inspired. And the recording captures just the right mix of brightness and brashness to give Rózsa’s music its unique flavor and character. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Roderic Dunnett
The Strad, February 2008

Miklos Rozsa may have composed the music for over 90 films, but his 'classical' output reveals him on a par with his contemporary Erich Korngold. Indeed his solo string concertos, already compellingly recorded on Koch Schwann by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, raised the question as to whether Rozsa might not even be, in orchestral terms, the greater of the two composers.

There are hints of his film music in the texturing of the 1956 Violin Concerto (written for Heifetz), mainly because Rozsa reworked some of his best orchestral ideas for his films, rooting the piece in the intensely beguiling Hungarian folk music of his childhood. Anastasia Khitruk is a compelling, gutsy exponent of this wonderful work, firmly abreast of the musical argument and utterly persuasive, not least the Szymanowski-like oriental touches near the close of the Lento.

Andrei Tchekmazov's exquisite tone and delicate poise are stupendously involving as he launches the central Theme and Variations of the Sinfonia concertante (Rozsa's masterpiece, written for Heifetz and Piatigorsky); and the two instruments' sparring in later variations is pure dazzle and delight, amid Magyar orchestral outpourings under a magnificently idiomatic Dmitri Yablonsky. Naxos's very direct Russian recording is utterly splendid.

American Record Guide, January 2008

Mark Lehman wrote (S/O 2005) of the Violin Concerto that it is "one of the great modern-but-traditional examples of the genre on a level with those of Sibelius, Nielsen, Larsson, Barber, Korngold". I concur, but he goes on to add: "It's incomparably played by Heifetz on RCA. No one else ever has or will come close." That doesn't bode well for Ms Khitruk, the Russian-born, American-trained who became so enamored of Rozsa's music that she organized and performed at a centenary concert in DC.

Rozsa created the concerto for Heifetz and obviously approved of his interpretation. But he didn't consider it to be an immutable template, and praised soloists (e.g. Tossy Spivakovsky) for taking "a more individual approach". From the opening bars -yearning rather than urgent- Ms Khitruk makes it clear she is not going to battle Heifetz on his turf. There is no shortage of drive when needed, but Khitruk brings out the work's nostalgic allure far more than he did. Her playing at the beginning of II -so hushed as to be almost inaudible- is a daring musical coup. She skillfully navigates the tortuous shoals of III- though I must admit that for sheer virtuoso showmanship Heifetz is hard to top in this movement.

The Sinfonia Concertante, a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestra is full of Rozsa's Hungarian idioms and shows his kinship with Kodaly and Bartok. Werner Andreas Albert leads a strong performance on CPO (S/O 2005), and his Hungarian orchestra has an edge over the Russian players. But I like the freshness and passion of Khitruk and Tcheckmazov over Albert's soloists.

First-rate sonics and program notes add to the value of an exceptional recording -one whose originality should bring new listeners to the beauties of the violin concerto. Recommended -even to Heifetz fans.

Andrew Fraser
Limelight, November 2007

Anastasia Khitruk and Andrey Tchekmazov are passionate soloists and the Russian Philharmonic directed by Dmitry Yablonsky are willing partners…

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, November 2007

Solid and musical accounts of two concertos by the master film composer

Just after welcoming the complete recording of the film score to The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (7/07), for which Rózsa – at Director Billy Wilder’s request – cannibalized his own Violin Concerto (1952), here comes a rather fine new recording of the original work itself alongside another of the excellent but much less well known Sinfonia concertante.

With its resonances of Kodály and late Bartók, and beautifully lyrical writing for the soloist, the Violin Concerto remains Rózsa’s most popular original concert work. The recording by Heifetz, who advised the composer on the solo part, remains the nonpareil in terms of its sheer virtuosity and the soloist’s intimate knowledge of the score but in the past 10 years rival versions have at last emerged to provide a much-needed interpretative tradition for this haunting score. Robert McDuffie’s is the best of these (and is coupled with Lynn Harrell’s fine account of the Cello Concerto) but if you do not have this, Khitruk’s is a sterling account full of warm, lyric impulse, her tone sweet yet strong.

In the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello and orchestra, (1958), written for Piatigorsky to play with Heifetz (who disliked it, feeling he was overshadowed by his colleague), Khitruk is ably partnered by Tchekmazov. There is little to choose between them and the rival listed; perhaps the BBC Concert Orchestra edge accompaniment for Graffin and Wallfisch but it is a close-run thing. If you are coming new to Rózsa, this can be safely recommended.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, October 2007

Miklos Rózsa arrived in Hollywood in 1940 after study in Leipzig and a stint in Paris where Arthur Honegger encouraged him to compose music for films. In California he found a strong community of expatriate composers including Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Korngold, and some of the finest instrumental soloists then active, including Heifetz, Rubinstein and Piatigorsky. By the time he renewed his contract with MGM in 1952, his reputation was such that he was able to demand an unprecedented three months off per year to compose concert music. The first fruits of this arrangement came in the form of a violin concerto, written for Jascha Heifetz. Although the work was completed in the summer of 1952, Heifetz would not play the premiere until 1956 in Dallas. Enthusiastically received, it would soon be recorded by RCA, and this recording was to remain alone in the catalogue for nearly forty years.

Unlike the concerto by his colleague Erich Wolfgang Korngold - also written for Heifetz - Rózsa’s work is far more harmonically adventuresome, though not without considerable episodes of soaring lyricism, particularly in the elegant and airy second movement. Korngold, whose music tended toward an ultra-romanticism à la Richard Strauss, eschewed some of the tangier dissonances employed by Rózsa. One can perhaps attribute the difference in style to the fact that Rózsa grew up in Hungary, whose folk music tradition was considerably more rustic than that of Korngold’s Vienna. Regardless of his sources, Rózsa creates an austere, almost wintry landscape with his music, music that is tautly composed, carefully structured and gracefully assembled. Even in the rather aggressive and stark final movement, Rózsa spins one colorful melody after and other around a punchy and rhythmic accompaniment long on brass interjections and percussive effects from all sections of the orchestra, drums included.

Anastasia Khitruk is an able successor to Heifetz, exhibiting both ample virtuosity and a warm singing tone that is both thrilling and engaging. She plays passionately and yet always in firm control over her emotions, bring the listener often to the edge of his chair without ever dumping him on the floor. Dmitry Yablonsky leads a finely tuned and rhythmically precise Russian Philharmonic Orchestra. The refined brass playing, not often a hallmark of Russian orchestras is not only refreshing but highly exhilarating. Balance between soloist and orchestra is fine, and the recording has the perfect combination of rich tone and clarity.

The composer’s experience with his Sinfonia Concertante was not nearly as happy. Originally proposed by Piatigorsky, the completed work was considered unsatisfactory by the performers - particularly Heifetz - and the two dedicatees played only a considerably reworked second movement. The work would not see a full performance until some time later in Chicago, where it was deemed over-long and again met with a number of revisions before reaching the form that is heard in this recording.

Considerably richer in texture than the violin concerto, the composer’s Hungarian roots are very evident in the melodies with their angular rhythms and acerbic harmonies. One can almost taste the goulash in the wonderfully pungent theme and variations, and yet, when the music needs a moment of repose, Rózsa weaves in a lush romantic theme worthy of any of his film scores. The work concludes with a heavy brass and percussion laden finale, set out in contrast to the fleet passage work of the soloists.

Ms. Khitruk is joined by an able and expressive partner in Andrey Tchekmazov whose thick-fingered tone and versatile range of expression serve the music well. Mr. Yablonsky delivers the same kind of tight ensemble playing, coupled with a warm unified string sound that he gave in the Violin Concerto.

To summarize, these are works of high artistic merit and one can hope that they will appear more often in the concert halls of the world, particularly the violin concerto.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth in Hungary of Miklos Rozsa, a composer remembered for his many film scores rather than his modest output for the concert stage. A prodigy who was composing and performing as a violinist by the age of seven, he was subsequently educated in Budapest and Leipzig. It was a visit to London and a meeting with the film producer Alexander Korda that began his serious work in the film industry, the two leaving the UK at the outset of the Second World War to seek refuge in Hollywood. It was in the United States that he was to spend the remainder of a long life. Moving into education in 1945 with an appointment at the University of Southern California, he was also at the height of his creativity in the film industry including his famous scores for Quo vadis and Knights of the Round Table. The 1956 score for the Violin Concerto was the first fruits of his agreement with his film company, MGM, that he should take a three month break each year to concentrate on his ‘serious’ composing. Completed in just six weeks and in the hope that Jascha Heifetz would become its dedicatee, it was to be the great violinist who gave the first performance subsequently recording the work. It’s opening movement sets the scene for a richly scored romantic work, just spiced with a degree of Russian pungency that recalls Prokofiev. A sumptuous second movement that is too long leads to a proactive finale, the whole package calling for a soloist of the ilk of Anastasia Khitruk, a supreme technician born in Russia and brought up in the United States. Twelve years later Rozsa completed the Sinfonia Concertante with the hope that Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky would give the first performance. This time Heifetz refused and its eventual premiere in Cleveland received such adverse comments that Rozsa eventually made numerous cuts before publication. I find the score more individual than the Violin Concerto, again with Prokofiev in the background and a role model from the Brahms Double Concerto. The interplay between instruments is well handled in the first two movements, but it is the happy finale that offers most rewards. Khitruk is joined by another top North American soloist, Andrey Tchekmanov, there tonal quality complementing each other, their intonation so exact, with the more outgoing moments drawing an admirable show of virtuosity, particularly in the exciting dash to the finishing line. The Russian Philharmonic has well captured the Rozsa idiom, and the recording is first class. Heartily recommended.

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