on 5 February 2011
This 2007 product, a collection of overtures, bleeding chunks, and suites from Miklos Rozsa (1907-95) film scores, was presented as a centennial for the composer. Indeed, it is called "Miklos Rozsa A Centenary Collection." It contains three CDs of film music that span the entire length of the composer's career in the genre, from his 1930s efforts for "Thief of Baghdad" and "The Jungle Book" to his latest music from 1982's "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid."
The three CDs all have at least 75 minutes of music, making this among the most generous of all Rozsa film music offers. As nearly as I can tell, all the music has been released before, either in complete film track scores or in other collections. It includes a couple full length concertos -- the New England Concerto and Spellbound Concerto. The notes suggest the composer wrote these for the players involved.
The music is dutifully played by a range of pianists, conductors and orchestras and everything is recorded in wide ranging stereo. Aside from the music that typically adorns these collections -- "King of Kings," "Spellbound," "Ben-Hur" -- the best here by my reckoning is the composer's suite to the 1981 mystery "Eye of the Needle." The five part suite begins with a trenchant prelude leading to a rhapsodic "English wedding", then to an elegaic "Passion" that includes mystery and motion, then onto "The fight" and, finally, closing mysteriously in the finale with transcendent romantic sweep. Another fine suite in the collection is from "Last Embrace", a 1979 Hitchcockian thriller. These are played authoritatively by the composer and the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra.
it is a bit ironic that this points out the major shortcomings of this set -- most of the music is not conducted by the composer and none of the other conductors seems to understand it takes an all out attack to make Rozsa's flourish and to keep it in the memory. Too often, conductors settle for little more than agitated lyricism, as Richard Muller-Lampertz does in the opening sequence from "El Cid," one of Rozsa's most incendiary scores. Elmer Bernstein and the Utah Symphony Orchestra do some of the music and they come closer to the spirit of the composer's own work, but still they fall short of the standard he sets for his own music in his many collections.
There are other elements of this production that bother me, as well. One is the everpresent use of including only an overture from a film and nothing more. What I found most troublesome was the music for "Ben Hur", "El Cid" and "King of Kings" -- three of the composer's greatest scores -- were split between two conductors and orchestras...and placed on two different CDs! For instance, CD 1 opens with Muller-Lampertz delivering the Overture, Palace music and Legend and epilogue from "El Cid." Meanwhile, Bernstein does two sections on CD 3 called El Cid and the coronation. It's hard for me to imagine what the producers of this set were trying to achieve doing this since these scores would have been much better played inclusively.
If you are not distressed by any of this, and if you require sumptuous modern sound to fully appreciate such outstanding music (some of the composer's best CDs are recorded in mono), then you will greatly enjoy this collection. It comes with a 12-page booklet called "ROZSA 100" that inlcudes a little text about everything that's played and biographical information on the composer, who was also a successful "classical" music composer, having composed an outstanding violin concerto championed by Jascha Heifitz, the greatest player of the 20th century.
To me, Miklos Rozsa's film music is very much like the technicolor orchestral music of the Armenian-born Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian. Both composers rely on grand, sweeping gestures and wonderfully orchestrated titanic arcs of sound in their romantic landscapes. And both conductors were full throttle interpreters of their own music. Khachaturian always played his music faster and louder than other conductors, and Rozsa conducted his film scores with full throated verve that is not often apparent in this production when one of the other conductors is at the helm. Still, this is a keepsake for lovers of the composer or film music and a fantatic introduction to the music of Miklos Rozsa for any neophyte, especially one that wants to hear the music in good modern sound.