Quo Vadis & Ben Hur/Rozsa

December 26, 2006


There are many times that the soundtrack community complains about a complete void of any recording in regard to a particular film. Films such as Shane, Lost Weekend, Heiress, and many others are less than complete in the release of the soundtrack material. Films such as Devil and Daniel Webster and The Red Pony only have concert suites of some of the material in the film. This cannot be said about Quo Vadis & Ben Hur. These were recordings that crossed over into the hands of countless people who had little or no interest in what the soundtrack was truly interested in. They just wanted to enjoy the beautiful themes both scores contained. This review is more like talking about a particular recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony from Toscanni and comparing it to one that Reiner did with the Chicago Symphony. Yet it is more difficult than that because with a recording of Beethoven there are four movements which you play in a more or less subscribed amount of time. Each recording of Ben Hur & Quo Vadis are going to have different tracks chosen, in concert form or from the original soundtrack. At last count (12-06) there were (73) recordings of Ben Hur listed in the Soundtrack Collector database. This could range from one theme on a compilation to a (2) plus hour recording of nearly all of the music from the film. Quo Vadis is a bit easier with only (31) to choose from!

This Dutton/Vocalion recording is a remastering of the Decca LP’s #4394 and #4430 from 1977 and 1978 with Rozsa conducting the National and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. Both biblical scores earned Oscar nominations for Miklos with Ben Hur giving him his third and final Oscar. The (2) CD set consists of 87+ minutes of material, which while far from complete is still a nice selection of all of the major material from the films. The first track of the Ben Hur CD “Fanfare to Prelude-Star of Bethlehem-Adoration of the Magi” is a very nice rendition of the Christ leitmotif/theme (the notes from the organ always gets me) and is a wonderful introduction to the themes. “Rowing of the Galley Slaves”, one of my favorite tracks, starts out in a plodding pace, the timpani leading the way and then it increases faster and faster with the trumpets answering the strings and by the time the finale is reached the piece is quite frantic and loud How many times in my marching band days did I perform the famous “Parade of the Charioteers”? Why do I remember the band leaders words that you must remain in step (trombone front row far left was my position) because if you are out of step the entire band is out of step! Was this composition as much of a staple in school as a Sousa march? Yup I sure think so and what a wonderful track even for the trombone! “Leper’s Search for the Christ”, while the theme is different from Lost Weekend I can hear the yearning straining chords of the alcoholic Don Birnham in New York. The concluding track, “Miracle and Finale”, with a choral version of “Alleuia” is a thing to behold.

Not to be outdone Quo Vadis, preferred by some to Ben Hur, begins with famous trumpet calls, the chorus singing “Quo Vadis Domine”, and this wonderous score begins in the “Prelude”. “Marcus and Lygia” is one of the more beautiful love themes (played on the Cor Anglais) and in a word is stunning. “Aftermath” has some very fine underscore, “Assyrian Dance” a wonderful middle eastern flavor piece, “Hail Galba” another stunning march, “Finale” the restatement of the “Prelude” with the chorus just angelic!

The Michael J. Dutton remaster is outstanding! He achieves absolute silence in the background and retains some if not all of the warmth. This reviewer is very impressed. A brief explanation of what was done to achieve the high level of remastering would have been helpful but the bottom line is that its not really necessary. It won’t sound any better or worse with or without an explanation. The liner notes are courtesy of Alan Hamer,the European representative of the Miklos Rozsa Society. They are very informative.

Between the two scores there are a (100) or so choices of what to get. The advantages of this one are fairly simple and straight forward. It is Rozsa conducting nearly 90 minutes of his music for an affordable price. It will not satisfy the complete collector who requires as much of the score as possible, as he needs to look at other recordings. But it will satisfy many and it is recommended for this reason.

Golden Scores Rating is (***1/2).

Remastered by Michael J. Dutton

Track Listing

Disc/Cassette 11. QUO VADIS: Prelude (02:09)

2. QUO VADIS: Marcus and Lygia (04:00)

3. QUO VADIS: Fertility Hymn (01:25)

4. QUO VADIS: The Burning Of Rome (03:41)

5. QUO VADIS: Petronius’ Banquet/Meditation and Death (04:31)

6. QUO VADIS: Ave Caesar (04:51)

7. QUO VADIS: Chariot Chase (03:07)

8. QUO VADIS: Assyrian Dance (01:57)

9. QUO VADIS: Aftermath (Death Of Poppae/Nero’s Suicide) (05:07)

10. QUO VADIS: Hail Galba (01:57)

11. QUO VADIS: Finale (04:37)

12. QUO VADIS: Epilogue (02:53)

Disc/Cassette 2

1. BEN HUR: Fanfare To Prelude/Star Of Bethlehem/Adoration Of the Magi (07:52)

2. BEN HUR: Friendship (03:48)

3. BEN HUR: The Burning Desert (05:19)

4. BEN HUR: Arrius’ Party (01:42)

5. BEN HUR: Rowing Of the Galley Slaves (02:36)

6. BEN HUR: Parade Of the Charioteers (03:28)

7. BEN HUR: The Mother’s Love (02:48)

8. BEN HUR: Return To Judea (02:29)

9. BEN HUR: Ring For Freedom (02:47)

10. BEN HUR: Leper’s Search For the Christ (03:08)

11. BEN HUR: Procession To Calvary (04:42)

12. BEN HUR: Miracle and Finale (05:33)

Total Duration: 01:26:27

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