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Rozsa: String Quartets No 1 & 2, String Trio / Tippett Quartet

Release Date: 10/29/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572903   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Miklós Rózsa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tippett String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RÓZSA String Quartets: No. 2, op. 38; No. 1, op. 22. String Trio, op. 1 (orig. published version) Tippett Qrt NAXOS 8.572903 (75:07)

Two relatively close contemporaries, Miklós Rózsa (1907–1995) and Erich Korngold (1897–1957) had much in common besides their Central European birth, their eventual immigration to America, and their Read more successful careers in the Hollywood film industry. They shared similar backgrounds and followed similar musical trajectories. Korngold, of course, was 10 years older and died at 60, much younger than Rózsa, who lived to be 88. But Korngold was born in Brno, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now the Czech Republic, just over 150 miles northwest of Budapest, where Rózsa was born. Both men had important associations with Germany and Austria, Rózsa studying in Leipzig under a former student of Max Reger, Korngold studying in Vienna, first under Robert Fuchs and then with Alexander Zemlinsky. Thus, both Korngold and Rózsa were steeped in the late Austro-German Romantic music of Reger, Mahler, Wolf, Zemlinsky, and Schoenberg. And finally, one could say that both Korngold and Rózsa were victims of their own success.

Hugely popular and in demand as composers of film scores, Korngold won an Academy Award for Best Score in 1938 for Adventures of Robin Hood , while Rózsa won three Oscars, for Spellbound (1945), A Double Life (1947), and Ben Hur (1959). This placed them, as far as the elite critics and academics of “serious” music were concerned, on the “B-list,” a typecasting that made it difficult for both men to further their reputations and gain respect as composers of consequential concert works.

While Korngold’s stock has risen significantly in recent years, with works such as his Violin Concerto, Sextet, and F?-Minor Symphony gaining wider attention, interest in Rózsa’s music has lagged behind. The reason, I think, has a simple explanation. Korngold saw no reason not to put his lush, hyper-Romantic, cinematic style to work in his orchestral and chamber music scores, the result being highly colorful, dramatic, emotionally-charged works with broad audience appeal.

Rózsa, in contrast, might be described as a multiple personality composer. The score to Ben Hur was the creation of one persona, while the string quartets on this disc—and indeed much of Rózsa’s non-film music—were the creations of another persona. In the latter, the composer adopted a more Modernist style, as exemplified in the String Quartet No. 2, which opens the disc.

The work, which was written in 1981, immediately casts the listener into the world of Bartók and Kodály. You might legitimately question why I would refer to music composed 50 years after the works on which it was modeled as “more Modernist.” The answer, of course, is not about the music per se ; the point, rather, is that Rózsa seems to have compartmentalized his composing efforts into two distinct categories—music for motion pictures, which preserved a late-Romantic, programmatically-driven, accessible style vs. music for the concert platform, which cultivated an abstract, more severe, and less immediately accessible style.

Perhaps it’s just my own perception, but this seems to me to be the opposite of the approach taken by Korngold, whose concert works are every bit as richly appointed, Romantically motivated, and listener embraceable as are his film scores. If this is so, it goes a long way towards explaining why Korngold’s concert music has gained popular acceptance, while Rózsa’s generally hasn’t.

This isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t great beauty in Rózsa’s music. The second movement of the Quartet No. 2, for example, is a quiet, strangely eerie, atmospheric piece that emulates some of Bartók’s “night” music. Indeed, if you’re into Bartók’s string quartets, it’s a safe bet that you’ll appreciate this Quartet by Rózsa.

Frankly, in terms of style, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between Rózsa’s Second Quartet and his First, composed nine years earlier in 1950. The contours are perhaps a bit softer and more rounded, but Bartók, Kodály, and the Hungarian folk element are still the main influences.

The String Trio, as presented here, is the world premiere recording of the work as it was originally composed by Rózsa while a student at the Leipzig Conservatory in 1927. Breitkopf & Härtel published the work in 1929 as op. 1. In 1974, the composer made major revisions to the original score, including numerous cuts, for its first recording. I believe that first recording is the one I have on a Cambria CD (1034), made under the composer’s supervision in 1975. It’s performed by Endre Granat, violin, Milton Thomas, viola, and Nathaniel Rosen, cello. The revised version plays for just over 23 minutes; the original version on the present disc plays for 30 minutes. Even allowing for minor tempo differences, it’s obvious that Rózsa did some serious cutting. I’m guessing the composer was asked to do this in order to accommodate the piece on a single side of an LP, though by 1975 LPs could easily manage 30 minutes and more per side. In any case, the String Trio is a brilliant and beautiful work that gains further stature in this longer, original version and excellent performance by members of the Tippett Quartet.

Vying for your attention in the two string quartets is a 2000 ASV recording featuring the Flesch Quartet. That CD is filled out, not by the String Trio, but by Rózsa’s Sonata for Two Violins. I have that disc too, and while I’ve always enjoyed it, I think this new Naxos release by the eminent Tippett Quartet trumps it in terms of rhythmic precision, sheer beauty of tone, idiomatic interpretation, and clarity of recording, not to mention the gorgeous String Trio in its original form, which is a real bonus.

For anyone unfamiliar with Rózsa’s chamber music, I can’t think of a better place get your ears wet—and to whet them too—than with this wonderful Naxos CD.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Trio for Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 1 by Miklós Rózsa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tippett String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929 
Quartet for Strings no 2, Op. 38 by Miklós Rózsa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tippett String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1981 
Quartet for Strings no 1, Op. 22 by Miklós Rózsa
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tippett String Quartet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1950 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Style and substance January 23, 2014 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "Miklos Rozsa's film scores are well-known. His classical compositions less so -- especially his chamber music. The Tippett Quartet perform his two string quartets and an early string trio, three works worthy of our attention. The String Trio (1922) was written when Rosza was 15 and just starting his career in Vienna. Although not as polished as the quartets, the work shows Rozsa's talent for creating interesting melodies supported by lush harmonies was there from the first. Listening to the 1950 String Quartet No. 1, I was reminded of Shostakovich's quartet writing. Rozsa's quartet is a strongly tonal work, but one with a decided edge to it. The biting unison passages to me had the same impact as those in Shostakovich's Op. 110 quartet. Rosza's String Quaret No. 2 appeared 31 years after the first. It's the most prickly of the three works, though still very much neoromantic. The scherzo especially brims with good humor, and the andante melody is beautifully constructed, as one might expect. The Tippett Quartet is a young ensemble. They have a clean, precise sound that can sometimes seem a little reserved. Perhaps that will soften over time." Report Abuse
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