CD Review

The other side of the pond


© Chris Green, March 2011


For the past few weeks I have been giving a series of talks about Music and the Cinema, and with the expectation that the series will be repeated in other parts of the United Kingdom shortly, I thought I would turn to one of my musical heroes of the soundtrack, the Hungarian Miklos Rozsa. His Parade of the Charioteers for the post-war version of Ben Hur has become one of those legendary tracks that appears on many albums. Llike many of his contempories, Rozsa is mainly known for his film scores. Yet, behind him lay a legacy of richly scored works for the concert-hall which rarely got an airing. Some composers fared better, composers such as William Walton, Vaughan Williams and, more recently, John Williams. All of them drew upon their film scores for concert works, following in a tradition established more or less by Erich Korngold who composed his Violin Concerto using themes from films like The Prince and the Pauper.

Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) spent 55 years of his life in Hollywood having forsaken his native Hungary and settled in Paris. He decided to try his luck in London and was introduced to Alexander Korda for whose company he scored the 1937 Knight without Armour. He was asked to go to Hollywood to undertake a small job and there he stayed until his death. His film credits include Double Indemnity, The Jungle Book, Julius Caesar and Spellbound. But what of the other Rozsa? He may never have gone back to Hungary to liv,e but there is plentiful idiomatic colour in his works as evidenced by a new album in which his Hungarian Serenade and Viola Concerto are played with great flair by the Budapest Concert Orchestra conducted by Mariusz Smolij ( Naxos 8.570925). Gilad Karni is the fluent soloist with closer miking making his viola sound very powerful (almost Formula 1) in what is already colourful music.

It so happens that with this release comes another one in which the HungarianSerenade is duplicated but containing three other works by Rozsa. The recording is even more vivid with typical Chandos attention to sonic detail as the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Rumon Gamba (Chandos CHAN 10488). Rozsa never overdoes the colourful effects, but his telling use of percussion is a trademark and one which he used in his film scores. With both releases there are some fascinating sleeve notes penned by Frank K. DeWald and Andrew Knowles respectively which illuminate his distinguished but varied career. It was composers like Rozsa who ensured that composing for the cinema never became routine, and the capacity to write memorable tunes, beautifully orchestrated reflected the |Central European tradition which he and his contemporaries had experienced in their musical training. The Chandos release is listed as Volume 1, and may there be more.

From EMI comes a collection of orchestral works by American composers of a slightly older generation but, apart from the name of Edward MacDowell, little known. Have you heard of John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951), John Knowles Paine (1839-1906), Arthur Foote (1853-1937) or Dudley Buck (1839-1909)? I doubt it, and certainly I had not, but here we have the burgeoning of an American musical voice shaking off the influence of European influences. The London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Klein must have had a great time exploring this music starting with a jazz-infused work by Carpenter, Skyscrapers, complete with banjo and pointing the direction in which Gershwin was going to travel. The recordings come from the back EMI catalogue yet sound freshly-minted (EMI 6 41118 2).

So much for Americana, but I return to the subject next time with a profile of man-of-the-moment, composer Eric Whitacre. Composer, and golden boy of the recording industry he is providing more material for top-class choirs and a few works which others might be able to tackle.