Miklós Rózsa: A Centenary Celebration is a labor of love for Varèse Sarabande producer Robert Townson. With Varèse Sarabande he has produced more than 400 soundtrack albums, and while some of these have proven notoriously short-lived, the label is noted for its dedication to film music and the quality of the work that goes into them. The three-disc Varèse Sarabande collection Miklós Rózsa: A Centenary Celebration runs to nearly four hours and includes music from 18 of the 94 or so films Rózsa scored. In addition to that, two concert pieces included seem to be wholly new to recordings. The New England Concerto (1984) is a work for piano four-hands and orchestra fashioned on themes from Rózsa's scores for Lydia (1941) and Time Out of Mind (1947). The other "new" (or "new-old," as Rózsa styled it) work is a greatly expanded version of the Spellbound Concerto that runs 10 minutes longer than its usually prescribed length. These are taken from recordings made with the Utah Symphony Orchestra under Elmer Bernstein and the piano duo Pierce and Jonas that were made at the time of the concert premieres of these pieces in Salt Lake City.
All of the recordings, minus the concerti, have appeared on Varèse Sarabande before in some form or another. They are historically wide-ranging and it's a pity that there's no direct account within the package as to when and what they are from. The recordings made in Hamburg were produced by D.L. Miller for the notorious Somerset label -- which brought us 101 Strings -- in the early '60s. Most of the disc's contents were recorded in the 1970s and early '80s and produced by either George Korngold or Rózsa himself, much of it from around the time of the sessions for Eye of the Needle. Elmer Bernstein, who was fanatically devoted to the music of Rózsa, conducts the lion's share of the album's selections. The most recent recordings, by Joel McNeely and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, were produced in the 1990s by Townson himself. Townson states that he had also wanted to include music from Lust for Life (1956), but decided to press ahead as Rózsa's birthdate loomed.
This is easily the most ambitious compilation of Rózsa's work that has been undertaken on disc. It does reflect its producer's taste in terms of Rózsa; it emphasizes grand, lush, and romantic themes over Rózsa's more acrid and dark city music or his penchant for exoticism, which admittedly had its roots in Hungarian folk melody no matter what the locale. In terms of performances, all those led by Rózsa himself and Elmer Bernstein are both authoritative and top drawer, whereas the ones from Hamburg are the weakest. Miklós Rózsa: A Centenary Celebration is a lot for someone looking for a place to start with Rózsa and the very advanced collector will have many of these things already. However, for those in the middle of the equation, who have a few of Rózsa's scores and are interested in expanding their focus, this will be a contender, and the appreciation of Rózsa in the booklet is well written and certainly worth enjoying in addition to the music.