Tippett Quartet

Miklós Rozsa: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2

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Most of the famous composers of film music wrote works in straight concert genres on the side, but few took it as seriously as the Hungarian-born Miklós Rózsa, who titled his autobiography Double Life and demanded that a summer composing break be written into his movie contracts. Some might expect that Rózsa's string quartets would represent the purest version of his classical style. In a way they do, and yet the two realms of Rózsa's music are not quite as distinct as he makes out. Traces of his film music can be heard, especially in the String Quartet No. 1, Op. 22, of 1950: in the second movement, marked Scherzo in modo ongarese, there is a somewhat more accessible version of Bartók's Hungarian quartet language, leavened by the German late Romanticism on which Rózsa's film scores are based. He acquired that language as a student at the Leipzig Conservatory in the 1920s; there he wrote the String Trio, Op. 1, whose original 1929 published version receives its premiere recording here. Rózsa later revised the work, and it's clear why; the long first movement is pretty diffuse. Yet it's a fine piece of passionate student writing. The late String Quartet No. 2, Op. 38, written in 1981, is in a more austere and concise idiom but is recognizable as the work of the composer who wrote the soundtracks to Spellbound (no theremin, though) and Double Indemnity. Britain's Tippett Quartet delivers slashing, kinetic performances that showcase these underrated pieces ideally. Recommended especially for string quartet players themselves, who will benefit if they get to know and program this music.

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