Miklos Rozsa Conducts His Epic Film Scores

Miklós Rózsa

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Miklos Rozsa Conducts His Epic Film Scores Review

by William Ruhlmann

The 2004 DRG Records release by Miklós Rózsa, Conducts His Epic Film Scores, is a re-titled reissue of the 1967 Capitol Records album Conducts His Great Themes. Since the MGM Records soundtrack albums for Quo Vadis (1952), Ben-Hur (1959), King of Kings (1961), and El Cid (1962) all made the charts, three of them becoming Top Ten hits, it was no surprise that when Capitol Records put the composer of those scores, Rózsa, under contract as a conductor in the mid-'60s, the label had him record an album of highlights from those films. Quo Vadis established a musical style for the big-budget, widescreen Biblical extravaganzas of the 1950s, both for Rózsa himself and for his Hollywood peers, with its fanfares and marches full of sweeping strings and loud brass; even the love themes were presented in lavish, overpowering melodies. Rózsa was known to do a lot of research for his historical films, but as a classical composer who came relatively late to film scoring, he had an identifiable style that remained prominent despite the subject matter of the movies he worked on. And, of course, with their similar settings, Quo Vadis, Ben-Hur, and King of Kings (all taking place during the Roman Empire), they inspire similar treatments. Even El Cid's 11th century Spanish setting turns out to be not all that far removed, especially because it is another large-scale effort dominated by armies marching across the screen. As such, the two- and three-minute musical cues included on this album all sound like they could have come from the same epic rather than four different ones. But that's fine. This is a highlights disc presenting some of Rózsa's most inspiring music, particularly that of Quo Vadis and El Cid. (King of Kings, however, seems to consist largely of retreads), while the Academy Award-winning Ben-Hur music is famous enough to justify its inclusion. There are many recordings of these themes, but this one conducted by the composer is especially accomplished. The DRG reissue expands the album with the inclusion of a 14-minute recording of Rózsa's "Spellbound Concerto" by the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra, conducted by the composer with Leonard Pennario on piano. The concerto is in a very different style from that of the other music on the album; Spellbound is a romantic and suspenseful film, not an epic, and Rózsa's more lyrical style is emphasized. But the bonus track can be considered a sweet dessert after the heavy dinner represented by the earlier music.

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