Mark Kosower / Mariusz Smolij / MAV Symphony Orchestra

Miklos Rózsa: Three Hungarian Sketches; Cello Rhapsody; Hungarian Nocturne

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Hungarian-born composer Miklós Rózsa may always remain best known for his two decades of familiar film scores, from Double Indemnity to Ben Hur and even The Green Berets. He started out writing concert music, however, and even in the midst of writing epic four-hour film scores he continued to accept symphonic commissions. The story of the one for the lovely Hungarian Nocturne, Op. 28 (1964), is told in the booklet notes here; it was requested by a Southern American patron who wanted music that "charms and soothes," a condition Rózsa only partly fulfilled. With large cycles of Rózsa works underway from the Chandos and Naxos labels, the composer's star would seem to be on the rise. This disc partially duplicates the contents of a BBC Philharmonic recording made under conductor Rumon Gamba; here, Mariusz Smolij, leading the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, is a bit more leisurely, giving the orchestra's horns two minutes of extra space in the Hungarian Serenade, Op. 25 (a work whose premiere was vigorously applauded by the aging Richard Strauss). They need it in the work's high-energy finale, but really both recordings will serve the new Rózsa listener well here. Smolij catches the dark emotional undertone of the Overture to a Symphony Concert, Op. 26a, written in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's invasion of Hungary in 1956; this work is also shared with the BBC Philharmonic release. The only reason to choose that disc, or Smolij's earlier release on Naxos, is to get either the Tripartita for orchestra, Op. 33 (Gamba) or the late and underrated Viola Concerto (Smolij); the Cello Rhapsody included here is a rather ponderous student work. But those collecting Rózsa's orchestral works can be assured of fine, idiomatic performances throughout here, and the Hungaroton Studio sound, while perhaps not quite in the Chandos league, is all that could be desired.

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