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Robert Moon
Audiophile Audition, June 2010

Gilad Karni plays the viola with a combination of virtuosity and heartfelt emotion. The Budapest Concert Orchestra, although not a major group, plays competently. The recording favors the viola slightly, but the orchestral details are clearly present…this recording will convince you that he also was a significant composer of concert music.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2009

To say that Gilad Karni’s performance is accomplished would be an understatement; his playing exhibits sensitivity and moments of rare, arresting beauty, as in the ethereal harmonics towards the end of the Adagio…Rózsa’s Viola Concerto is an imperative for any serious collection…Sound and recording are up to Naxos’s usual standards of excellence, as are the Budapest Concert Orchestra and its conductor, Mariusz Smolij. Recommended, especially for the Viola Concerto, which you are bound to find a deeply satisfying work.

Raymond Tuttle
Classical Net, May 2009

This disc fills a decided gap, because there appear to be no other currently available recordings of these works. The Viola Concerto is a late work, dating from 1979, and composed for Pinchas Zukerman…at the suggestion of Gregor Piatigorsky. (At any rate, Zukerman never recorded it, although he did give the premiere performance in 1984) Unusually, it is in four movements. Rózsa did not think highly of it, and it is the least immediately appealing of his concertante works. It is tense and dark, and whatever humor it displays is of the grotesque variety. One also hears hints of the composer’s earlier film scores. The first movement, for example, reminds me of the music that Rózsa composed in 1947 for the Edward G. Robinson thriller The Red House. This is a worthwhile score, but one can understand why it hasn’t caught on. Violist Gilad Karni makes a good case for it, applying his rich tone liberally, and relishing the score’s all-pervasive Magyar colorings…The Hungarian Serenade is quite an early work…Originally for strings only, the Serenade eventually was reconfigured for full orchestra, and this is how it is performed here. In keeping with the genre, it opens with a March (but does not close with one), which is followed by a Serenata, a Scherzo, a Notturno, and a Danza. Despite the Italian movement titles, this work is Hungarian through and through—perhaps in the style of Kodály, who knew how to dress Hungarian folk music up without making it relinquish its true character…The orchestra heard here is, believe it or not, the official orchestra of the Hungarian railroad system! It has been in existence since 1945 and plays with know-how and enthusiasm…Smolij, who seems to have conducted more orchestras than I have had hot dinners, has built a good rapport with the orchestra, and his reading of these two scores is honest and sympathetic.

Gil French
American Record Guide, May 2009

The Viola Concerto, written in 1979 for Pinchas Zukerman, is a magnificent work. While it feels like a giant lament, each of its four movements is written in dramatic sonata-allegro form (even the second movement Giocoso is, in shortened form), which raises it far above a morose experience. For anyone familiar with the music of Bartók and especially Kodály, this work literally drips with Hungarian ambience, though its poignant harmonic sixths, rhythmic kick, and modulations are very akin to Walton’s Viola Concerto.

This performance is magnificent too, as is the engineering. Karni’s depth of emotion, tone color, and line make each movement a unified whole. Smolij’s orchestra is an equal partner in creating the involuted drama in I and III, while maintaining a tight pace with subtle relief in the Giocoso. He also makes sure that the darker orchestral colors never cover the soloist. In fact, the first movement would be a completely satisfying concert experience just by itself. And are those low harmonics I hear in the viola at the end of I? They’re as haunting as the glass harmonica in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Steve Arloff
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Miklós Rózsa was a truly remarkable composer. He left Hungary at the age of 18 in 1925 and, apart from a brief visit in 1974, never set foot again in his native country. Even so, his music carries an absolutely genuine and immediately identifiable Hungarian imprint. To quote the composer himself “the music of Hungary is stamped indelibly one way or another on virtually every bar I have ever put on paper”. When no feature work appeared in Paris where he’d gone from his studies at Leipzig Conservatoire he took up writing music for films at the suggestion of Arthur Honegger. He first tried his luck in London where his debut score was for Knight Without Armour for Sir Alexander Korda in 1937. By 1940 he had become Korda’s “one man music department”. He went to Hollywood, as he thought for a month or so, to put the finishing touches to his score for The Thief of Baghdad. He ended up remaining there for the rest of his life, dying in California 55 years later.

This disc presents two works from each end of his composing career, the viola concerto of 1979 being his last orchestral work. It has an overall dark feel to it more akin to Bartók than to Kodály whose music the other work here, the Hungarian Serenade, more closely resembles. Opening with a brooding theme almost immediately taken up by the soloist, who is called upon to play virtually without a break throughout. The concerto has a sweeping momentum that demands attention and passionate themes that are full of emotion. Lovers of Hungarian themes will particularly enjoy the concerto as they are very much to the fore here as they are in all his works. Peasant dances and folk-style fiddling abound. Gilad Karni is a great soloist who obviously relishes his role here. The orchestra give committed support. This concerto proves yet again that the viola does not deserve the reputation it has for being second rate in comparison with the violin. Here it is called upon to perform beautiful phrases and heart-felt ideas.

The Hungarian Serenade which dates from 1945 had a long gestation to arrive at its present completed state. It began life as a piece for string orchestra simply entitled Serenade. The premiere came in 1932 at the opera house in Budapest under Bruno Walter. There it received furious applause from none other than Richard Strauss who was there with the wife of Dohnányi. The work went through several revisions which included removing the final march and its replacement by a lively dance. It teems with folk-inspired music and shows once again how emotionally tied Rózsa was to his native land. It receives a wonderful performance from this orchestra which began its life as one founded in 1945 by Hungarian State Railways!…If proof is still required by some that Rózsa was a master composer whose reputation should not be confined to his fabulous film scores then this disc is one more salvo in that argument.

Guy Rickards
Gramophone, March 2009

Two fine works rich in Magyar colours spanning the bulk of Rózsa's career. The recording industry's sustained interest in Rózsa's concert music is heartening and this new disc from Naxos is its latest manifestation. Both works exhibit fully the strengths and appeal of the composer's output as a whole, from its impeccable craftsmanship to its lilting Hungarian accent. The personal voice—close stylistically at times to Kodály and Bartók—is recognisably that of the film composer whose music graced the silver screen for so long. The Hungarian Serenade started Life in the early 1930s as his Op 10 for strings but Rózsa's senior colleague Erno von Dohnányi (who conducted the premiere in 1932) persuaded the young composer to recast it for a larger orchestra with a punchier finale. The work underwent several further revisions before emerging as the work given here…A fine player and former Lionel Tertis Competition prize-winner, Karni audibly relishes the work's dark colours and rich writing. The Concerto had a difficult genesis (for Rózsa), taking four years to complete with several interruptions by film work which the composer later claimed ruined the flow. Yet the finished result does not betray this, its four movements holding together as if written in a single burst of inspiration. Karni proves a fine advocate and the Budapest Concert Orchestra provide excellent support.

Jeff Hall
ScreenSounds, January 2009

Naxos has released yet another volume of Miklos Rozsa concert works, one, the Hungarian Serenade, from quite early in his career and his Concerto for Viola and Orchestra, from 1979, which was in fact not only his last concerto, but also his last orchestral work.

Recorded in Budapest in 2007, the music is performed by the Budapest Concert Orchestra MAV and conducted by Mariusz Smolij, with Gilad Karni featuring on the viola.

The disc begins with the later work, and consists of four movements: the brooding and dramatic Moderato Assai which Frank K. DeWald in his booklet notes likens to Rozsa's scores for the likes of Providence and Fedora, is followed by the energetic Allegro Giocoso, which reminds considerably of plenty of action cues written by the composer for films over the years. No one wrote a nocturne quite like Rozsa and his last one features next in Adagio. It is, as one would expect, filled with warmth and passion. The concluding Allegro Con Spirito returns us to the energetic territory of before, though there is also a vaguely familiar oboe-lead theme.

The five movement Hungarian Serenade, a popular favourite among the composer's concert works, opens in fine style with Marcia, giving way to the rhapsodic strings of Serenata, and then the lively Scherzo, which also features a quite noble central theme. Another great Notturno follows; the piece ending satisfyingly with the orchestra in full force for the Danza.

The thing about Miklos Rozsa's concert music is that his distinctive style shines through and can be enjoyed just as much by lovers of his film scores.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2008

The world of classical music is unforgiving to those who sell their musical soul to Hollywood, and any thought of returning to their roots has been hastily dismissed. The Hungarian, Miklos Rozsa, was one of the few to keep working in both fields through much of his long life, though it was more by accident than choice that he had found himself in California at the onset of the Second World War. He was to offer his talents in creating scores of epic quality for the MGM studios, becoming one of cinemas most highly regarded composers of his time. In the classical world he never moved much away from his Hungarian roots, and though his output was more commercially orientated than Bartok, they shared much in common. Indeed in Rozsa’s Viola Concerto there are distinct similarities in style and melodic content to Bartok’s unfinished concerto for the instrument. Only in the orchestral scoring do we hear the wide vistas of the silver screen. Completed when he was seventy-two, it was intended for the young Pinchas Zuckerman who gave the first performance in 1984. Gilad Karni, principal viola of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, here gives a most persuasive performance. Full of spiky brilliance in the second and fourth movements, he captures the dark melancholy of the third movement adagio. The Hungarian Serenade was an early work composed while a student in Leipzig and originally for strings. It did pass through several changes, and in 1952 emerged as a score for small chamber orchestra. Opening with a jolly melody for bassoon, it retains its original string format in the second movement, the work ending with a boisterous dance. The Budapest Concert Orchestra, with conductor, Mariusz Smolij, sound much more comfortable in their full format for the outgoing concerto accompaniment.

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