Rozsa : Violin Concerto, Op. 24; Cello Concerto, Op. 32; Theme and Variations for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, Op. 29a
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Like other European composers of his generation, Miklós Rósza, born in Hungary in 1907, found political and creative sanctuary in Hollywood, where he wrote concert music and many notable film scores. These three works clearly show that he never lost his roots in his native folk music. The violin concerto, a lush, romantic piece, was written at the urging of Jascha Heifetz and is tailored to his and his instrument's strengths, with singing, soaring melodies, brilliant passage work, and a very effective cadenza. Later, Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky asked Rósza to write a piece for them; the "Theme and Variations" is the slow movement of a longer work. It is beautifully written for both instruments; based on a Hungarian melody, the variations are wonderfully inventive and varied in mood, character, and expression. The Cello Concerto too is extremely difficult and virtuosic, often quite wild and aggressive, and full of contrasts. The orchestration is excellent throughout, but not too heavy. The performances could not be better: McDuffie and Harrell surmount all the formidable technical challenges easily, their tone shimmers and glows, and their heartfelt but always refined expressiveness brings out the best in these unjustly neglected works. --Edith Eisler
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And even more perplexing, the violinist on this disc, Robert McDuffie, was unknown to me. How about that? (as Mel Allen had a wont to say) - an unknown came out of nowhere, as it were, and delivered a performance that made me want to stand up and cheer! He wasn't Heifetz, of course, but he sure as hell had the measure of this piece and in his own way, provides a musical experience of equal value.
- And let me add that I DID hear Heifetz LIVE play the Rozsa "Theme and Variations", many years ago with Piatigorsky, but as I remember to no greater effect than McDuffie and Harrell give it here. - And although I am less familiar with the cello concerto, I doubt you'll hear this wonderful piece done any better than on this disc.
Finally, I must confess that I am definitely no great fan of either Yoel Levi and his Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, other than astonishment at their ability in the past to manipulate the Grammy Awards judges into showering them with mostly undeserved prizes.
However, having said all that, here they come up trumps - HONESTLY! The orchestra play magnificently, and as is usually the case, Telarc records them in an equally magnificent manner. This disc may have just preceded their current, glorious SACDs, but Telarc, led by their leader Robert Woods, had even then learned how to record an entire orchestra, with solo instruments, and with bass notes unsacrificed, with astonishing fidelity. They certainly do themselves proud.
GET THIS DISC - IT'S A MUST BUY!
His Violin Concerto has always been one of my favorites by Rozsa and the playing here is sumptuous and the sound is crystal clear and I wish they had his Variations on a Hungarian Peasant Song here as well. The Concerto for Cello and Orchestra is a new favorite of mine upon hearing it for the first time and I find it to be a very powerful piece and it has whetted my appetite for more of the
composer's classical works. This is a splendid recording well worth having.
That said, I was very impressed by Mr. McDuffie's performance, and I'm considering buying other recordings where he is the principle artist. As for Rosza, his music takes my breath away and is just simply a lot of fun.
One thing I will say about the movie connection: When Korngold returned to serious composition, the Hollywood character of episodes in both the Symphony and the Violin Concerto stick out like a sore thumb. It makes those works sound incoherent, therefore ridiculous qua serious concert music. Not so with Rozsa. These composition do not betray their affiliation because the integration is so successful that the works hang together as authentic classical forms.
This album brings the composer's three concerted works for strings together on one disc. That in itself is already a high commendation for collectors. The performances are eminently satisfactory and the sound excellent. McDuffie cannot be expected to match Heifetz (the dedicatee) in the violin concerto, on other hand the recorded sound of the RCA album is of rather dull and limited quality. Best to have both. I have not heard the Double Concerto in the Heifetz-Piatigorsky recording, which I believe has never been reissued on CD and so I cannot comment. But I find Harrell's account of the Cello Concerto masterful.
If there is a Renaissance of Rozsa coming, we may expect some more competition. Meanwhile I observe that a Naxos issue has been released of the Violin Concerto. I heard it once and it does not seem to me a serious competitor.
I can't see how anyone buying this album could be seriously disappointed.