Three Choral Suites/Rozsa

September 15, 2008


A good solid building block for your collection is the Cincinnati Pops release of “Three Choral Suites.” Part of a project planned late in his career, Miklos had begun to create individual suites for Ben Hur, Quo Vadis, and King of Kings. His poor health (stroke) and passing away prevented him from completing the project, but master reconstruction arrangers Robbins, Palmer, and Kershaw created a wonderful one-hour suite with special help and encouragement from his son Nick Rozsa. Do not be mislead by the title either. While there are several tracks featuring the 360 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, there are many orchestral tracks as well, creating a nice blend of each that complement one another. This is not just about choral music, far from it!

The CD begins with six selections from Dr. Rozsa’s third and final Oscar winner Ben Hur. The brass driven Overture has to be ranked as one of the finer melodies created for the screen. Proud and majestic, to this day it still sends “shivers up my spine” whenever I hear it. The same can also be said for the Alleluia track. Listen to the splendor of the voices of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir through nice speakers or headphones and one will quickly be convinced of how superior these singers are. And they are all volunteer voices, part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also included in the suite is the now infamous Parade of the Charioteers performed by virtually every marching band the world over. Trumpets reign supreme in the proud statement of yet another great Rozsa theme. The final track Miracle and Finale restates the Overture as well as Alleluia. Robbins, who arranged and reconstructed Ben Hur, does a marvelous job with the blending of the two themes. Charlton Heston would be proud of the fine job that was done on this 20-minute suite.

Quo Vadis was the first of many epic films that Rozsa would do in his career. This film was prior to cinemascope but the table had been set for many of the religious biblical films. The 1951 film starring Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, and Peter Ustinov was a Roman tale of boy meets girl with jealousy from another suitor the result. It was nominated for several academy awards including the score, but this was the winning year of A Place In The Sun for Franz Waxman and his wonderful score. Rozsa seemed to be so at home with this type of venue and the score is certainly no exception. His time spent in his early years in the Gewandhaus choir certainly contributed to the wonderful choral passages. Beginning with a trumpet fanfare you are lead to the choir, which reveals the main theme in this Prelude. The Assyrian Dance could have come right from the Rimsky-Korsakov classical work Scheherazade oboe lead with that mystical Oriental flavor and if you weren’t familiar with it you would have been easily tricked! The Miracle and Finale restates the themes once again with chorus and a small amount of spoken commentary. Quite religious in flavor it draws this second suite to a powerful conclusion. This suite had several people working on the transcription. Palmer, Kershaw, Price, and even Erich Kunzel contributed to it.

The 1961 film King of Kings starring Jeffrey Hunter playing Christ, was the only one of the three that did not garner an Oscar nomination for Miklos. In fact it garnered no nominations at all but was a huge success at the box office returning 25 million dollars far surpassing the 6 million dollar budget. Some will argue that this was Dr. Rozsa’s crowning achievement and by far the finest of three represented in this suite. The film is one that the seasoned soundtrack listener will identify the Lost Weekend score in the track of Miracles of Christ. One can hear that straining heartache of the theme, which so often identifies Rozsa in his compositions. The pattern of restating the main theme is again used in Resurrection and Finale. Daniel Robbins is again responsible for the arranging and reconstruction and gives us a nice overview of the composition.

Recording engineer Jack Renner has been involved with Telarc from the very beginning and the outstanding quality of the recording is again evident. The DSD system used, developed by Philips and Sony, is state of the art and gives a breathtaking sound from your system. Classical lovers will enjoy this recording as a slightly different area to their collection. The soundtrack collector who has yet to purchase any of the many choices of OST material would totally enjoy this CD. It is put in the category of a building block or top 100 scores to have in your collection. It gives you 20 minutes each, a nice selection of material from the films. If you already own some of the OST material the recording will merely complement your collection. This is one of those CD’s that could fall into the category of a recording to have if you are stuck on a deserted island. Repeated listens just enhance the listening pleasure. Erich Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops have yet another winner in there long list. Highly recommended and takes it place in the top 100 soundtrack recordings of all time. While we are on the subject of Rozsa don’t be afraid to check out his string concertos on Telarc CD80518. He has a lot more to offer the listener than just film music.

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

Produced by Robert Woods

Engineer Jack Renner

Performed by Cincinnati Pops, Erich Kunzel conductor.

Craig Jessop directs the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Telarc CD# is CD-80631

Track Listing:

Ben Hur

1. Overture (3:52)

2. Star of Bethlehem/Adoration of the Magi (3:51)

3. Rowing of the Galley Slaves (2:39)

4. Alleluia (2:08)

5. Parade of the Charioteers (3:25)

6. Miracles and Finale (5:29)

Quo Vadis

7. Prelude (1:46)

8. Ave Caesar March (4:12)

9. Fertility Hymn (1:15)

10. Assyrian Dance (1:57)

11. Marcus and Lygia (4:50)

12. Miracles and Finale (4:03)

King of Kings

13. Overture (4:02)

14. Roman Legions (1:35)

15. Nativity (1:58)

16. The Feast of Passover (2:05)

17. Herod’s Feast (1:08)

18. Miracles of Christ (2:51)

19. The Lord’s Prayer (2:26)

20. Pieta (3:00)

21. Resurrection and Finale (2:23)

Total Time is 61:54

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