The Film Music of Miklos Rozsa/Compilation
March 23, 2014
While it is still early in 2014 this new Chandos release of Rozsa material has got to be a contender for an award from the IFMCA for best re-release of concert hall material previously performed. The superb arrangements coupled with the baton of Rumon Gamba and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra makes this a gold star entry in the Chandos film series collection and as a reviewer I’ve listened to all of them. Overall this has been a wonderful addition to the film music world.
Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995), born in Budapest, was as influential in Hungary as a contemporary, Bela Bartok. Rozsa’s true love was classical or serious music and it was financial that he hooked up with Alexander Korda (1893-1956), also Hungarian, and did a series of award winning films for him, two of which The Thief of Bagdad and Jungle Book are included in this compilation. Rozsa went on to win three Oscars, was nominated for Oscars a total of 13 times, and became a powerful composer in Hollywood. If there was an epic picture to be scored Rozsa got the call.
Thief of Bagdad (1940), winner of three Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction, and Special Effects, was also nominated for an Oscar for best score. An early Technicolor film tells the story of Jaffar (Conrad Veidt) who tricked and threw King Ahmad (John Justin) out of Bagdad. Ahmad joins forces with Abu (Sabu) to recapture his throne, city, and his princess (June Duprez). The seven tracks begin with an overture that sounds like it could have come from his biblical epics and since this predates them could have been the source for future ideas. It offers the march with brass motifs, swirling strings, and pounding timpani. The “Cortege” is definitely Oriental sounding with the reeds offering a theme with harmony being provided by the brass. “The Love of the Princess,” included as an audio track, is one of with sweet strings with the Rozsa touch. It could be a love theme for any number of films. “Sultan’s Toys” has a bassoon solo that reminds me of the grandfather in Peter and the Wolf, a plodding playful theme. “The Flying Horse” is a gallop pace with yet another theme that has a mocking style and could fit into a cartoon. “Silvermaid’s Dance” is yet another melody that has the flavor of the orient mixed with a Hollywood sound. The full orchestra is used giving it that sound of the dancer luring the cobra snake out of hiding. The concluding track “The Market at Basra” is in the style of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance a rollicking melody that comes to a rousing conclusion to end the incredibly entertaining twenty minute suite. They just don’t write material like this anymore. The suite has been around having been released by Varese Sarabande and others but this recording has the advantage of the Chandos recording team who seem to go a step beyond others.
Jungle Book (1943) brought together Korda, Sabu, and Rozsa again in the Rudyard Kipling story of a boy being raised by wolves who comes to the city and does very well for himself. It was a three time Oscar winner also directed by Korda with another nomination going to Rozsa for his fine soundtrack. The opening track “Beginning,” is a compilation of the themes within this compilation and runs the gamut of material in this 30 minute suite. You’ll hear the lush main theme which has a similar style to the Bonanza theme, the romantic love theme, mocking material quite classical in nature. There is a hint of what I like to call his noir style. This suite was also released by Varese but lacks the Chandos touch along with the fine playing of the BBC.
Sahara (1943) was a Bogart movie about World War II which Rozsa fashioned a fine score for using some military sound along with that yearning feeling he became so famous for. The suite which is extended by a few minutes from the Gerhardt version on RCA was orchestrated by Christopher Palmer. There are some bars that remind me of the Max Steiner style but then Bogie did a lot of pictures for Warner Brothers the studio were Steiner worked for many years.
Ben Hur (1959) is the picture that Rozsa will be best remembered and a favorite one of Rozsa fans. The “Parade of the Charioteers” was introduced to me in high school and college band as recognizable to many as Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes forever. The “Love Theme” is yet another example of Rozsa being able to capture your heart and pull at the strings. “The Prelude” is rich infected with a feeling of spirituality letting you know that this film has religious overtones. The twenty one minute suite passes quickly and you’re finding yourself hitting the repeat of tracks 19-24 again.
I would classify this recording as one for the listener who has occasional interest in soundtracks and highly recommend it to the classical listener. Remember that Rozsa was classically trained and because of the unusual contract with Hollywood would spend his summers in Italy composing material. The soundtrack collector may or may not have an interest as they likely own a previous version or in the case of Ben Hur complete soundtrack of the original material. If you’re a collector of the Chandos collection it will be a welcome addition. The recording is superb by the Chandos staff as always.