Film Music Review
The Sammy awards







Music by Miklos Rozsa

The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky. Anastasia Khitruk, violin soloist; Andrey Tchekmazov, cello soloist.

Naxos 8.570350

Rating: ****


Miklos Rozsa had been introduced to legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz only once, shortly after the composer’s arrival in America during a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. At the age of twenty one, Rozsa had earlier attempted his first violin concerto, a piece he himself considered an “immature work. In the early years of the second half of the last century, the composer longed to try again. As a seasoned, certainly more mature artist, he wanted to try his hand at writing a more accomplished and significant work. Reasoning that all great composers had written their concerto’s with a particular artist in mind, he decided to approach Heifetz. Heifetz was, unquestionably, the most celebrated of violinists, and Rozsa knew his accompanist, Emmanuel Bay. He prevailed upon Bay to approach Heifetz on his behalf. Heifetz appeared interested, writing back that Rozsa should compose a single movement for his consideration, and that they’d try it together before he made up his mind. As Rozsa writes in his autobiography, Double Life, this was a risky proposition, for Heifetz had been known to turn other composers down after hearing just a single movement. The chance to work with Heifetz was, he decided, worth the risk, however.

During his hiatis from MGM in 1953, Rozsa transported his family to Rapallo, Italy, where he rented a sumptuous villa in which he would write his violin concerto. The inspiring magnificence of his surroundings gave voice to Rozsa’s lyrical muse. He had intended to write only the first movement of the concerto, as Heifetz had requested, but completed the entire work in just six weeks. Upon the family’s return to America, Rozsa delivered the manuscript to Emmanuel Bay who offered it to Heifetz for his approval.

Heifetz contacted Rozsa, telling him that he did, indeed, like the completed work, suggesting that they get together again in four weeks, after the violinist had returned from his current concert tour. Six months elapsed without a word from Heifetz, and Rozsa assumed that he had lost interest in their collaboration. At the suggestion of fellow artists, Rozsa was encouraged to offer his work to other violinists. Before anyone else had an opportunity to accept or decline the invitation, however, Heifetz telephoned. Rozsa, perhaps inappropriately, assumed that the caller was not the great solist at all but, rather, his friend and fellow composer Bronislau Kaper playing a practical joke on him. Consequently, when Heifetz contacted him by telephone, Rozsa replied “If you’re Heifetz, I’m Mozart.” After recovering from what the composer considered one of the most embarrassing moments of his career, discussions proceeded. Heifetz wished to make some minor changes and edits, and Rozsa happily agreed, working together toward a finalized version of the concerto.

Heifetz telephoned Rozsa, excitedly, late in 1955, telling him that he was at last going to perform the concerto at a premiere performance in Dallas, Texas. The performance occurred on January 15 th, 1956, with Walter Hendl conducting The Dallas Symphony Orchestra. At the conclusion of the performance, Heifetz called Rozsa to the stage where both were greeted by a standing ovation. The reviews were mostly exemplary, and Rozsa was delighted with the response from both critics and audience participants alike. Later that year, Heifetz recorded the concerto, reprising his earlier performance with Walter Hendl and The Dallas Symphony Orchestra. For the recording, as was his practice, Heifetz performed each movement three times, consecutively, without interruption. He, himself, then decided which of the three performances would permanently adorn the final recording, and album release. The Heifetz recording has remained the standard by which all other recordings and performances have been judged. Rozsa, himself, conducted the concerto ten or fifteen times in live concert over the course of years, always adhering to the standard and tempo established by Heifetz.

In recent years, several newer recordings of the concerto have emerged, including a less than entirely satisfying performance by James Sedares, conducting the New Zealand Symphony, with solo violinist Igor Gruppman, for Koch, as well as a far more exciting recording for Telarc featuring Yoel Levi, conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, with solo violinist Robert McDuffie.

Director Billy Wilder asked Rozsa to adapt his concerto for his under appreciated masterpiece, THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES in 1970, for which romantic, virtuoso, violin solo performances were created on the soundtrack. Earlier this year, in celebration of what would have been Miklos Rozsa’s one hundredth birthday, producer James Fitzpatrick produced a labor of love in re-creating the entire score for Wilder and Rozsa’s collaborative gem. Meticulously crafted, and adoringly presented, with Nic Raine conducting The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, and Lucie Svehlova performing the exquisite violin solos, the recording lovingly captured the essence of this remarkable film and score.

Now, with a retrospective of the composer’s film career having adorned the summer schedule of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences theatre in Los Angeles, and another week long Rozsa film festival slated for year’s end at San Francisco’s legendary Castro Theatre, yet another recorded pearl is poised for release and distribution throughout America and Europe.

In April, 2007, I was honored to attend a private commemoration of the composer’s birthday held at the Hungarian Embassy in Washington, DC. Hosted by the Hungarian Ambassador to The United States, with participation by Grammy Award winning cellist, Janos Starker, and the gracious Juliet Rozsa, daughter of the esteemed composer, a concert of music by Miklos Rozsa, by a small ensemble of talented musicians, brought the memorable and unforgettable evening vividly to life. The first movement of the Violin Concerto was performed with rapturous clarity by the stunningly beautiful Russian violin virtuoso, Anastasia Khitruk. Her performance, with only piano accompaniment, filled the small chamber with passionate, impeccable artistry. At the conclusion of the performance, Ms. Khitruk announced that she had recently returned from Russia where she had recorded the entire Rozsa Violin Concerto with full, symphony orchestra, for release on Naxos in the Fall of Rozsa’s centennial year.

Violin Concerto and Sinfonia Concertante by Miklos Rozsa have now been released by the classical label, Naxos. Conducted by Dmitry Yablonsky with The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, featuring the gifted Anastasia Khitruk on violin, and Andrey Tchekmazov on cello, this new recording is both breathtakingly exciting, and delicately exquisite. Ms. Khitruck’s artistry and intensity are joyous evocations of classic dedication and devotion to her craft. With a somewhat slower, more studied tempo and deliberate pacing than has previously been exhibited by other violinists in performance of the Rozsa Concerto, Ms. Khitruk has demonstrated a carefully calculated effort to develop and showcase the exquisite melodic eloquence of the composer’s loveliest, most haunting work. Khitruk’s deeply sensual caress of her instrument, and nearly heartbreakingly beautiful interpretation of the rapturous concerto, sends chills and goose bumps down one’s spine; her entire body, lost in ravishing artistry, conjoining seemlessly with the instrumentation of wondrous expressiveness.

Released as the premiere performance of The Miklos Rozsa Centenary Project, for recording and performing the Hungarian master’s music, the series of prestigious recordings is being co-sponsored by The Geers-Gross Agency, The Argent Funds Group LLC, Dr. D. Bruce McMahan, The National Christina Foundation, Anastasia Khitruk, Naxos Records and The Miklos Rozsa Society, under the guidance of John Fitzpatrick. Based upon a lush, sensitive, performance by this beautiful artist, as well as the handsome production by everyone involved in this initial recording, one can only remain happily enthusiastic over the promise of future recordings in praise and tribute to the incomparable art and legacy of a great composer.

-- Steve Vertlieb, 22 September 2007


See also these links

A Tribute to Miklos Rozsa in Washington, DC by Steve Vertlieb

100th Brithday Tribute to Miklos Rozsa





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