RÓZSA:  Violin Concerto, Op. 24.  Cello Concerto, Op. 32.  Theme and Variations for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op. 29a
Robert McDuffie, violinist/Lynn Harrell, cellist/Atlanta Symphony Orch/Yoel Levi, cond.

TELARC CD 80518  (F) (DDD)  TT:  71:48

Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa  wrote some of the finest music ever written for films including The Thief of Baghdad (1940), The Red House (1947),  The Lost Weekend (1945), A Double Life (1948), Spellbound (1945), and Ben-Hur (1959), winning Academy Awards for the last three. The other side of Rózsa is his "classical" side, which is quite extensive. In the '40s, Rózsa moved to California where he resided for the remainder of his life, associating with an elite group of classical musicians including Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, Jascha Heifetz, Josef Szigeti, Gregor Piatigorsky, Artur Rubinstein, Bruno Walter and Leopold Stokowski. It was in this atmosphere that Rósza composed the three works heard on this CD. 

The Violin Concerto was written for Heifetz, premiered by him January 15, 1956 with the Dallas Symphony conducted by Walter Hendl, and recorded by them for RCA.  Heifetz collaborated with the composer on the solo part resulting in a work highly demanding for the soloist. Heifetz' recording (inexplicably not currently in Schwann/Opus) is spectacularly played; however Robert McDuffie's performance is admirable, particularly in the rustic Hungarian sounds of the finale.  The Cello Concerto was written for János Starker, premiered by him in 1969.  As with the violin concerto, the cello concerto was written with technical suggestions from its dedicatee. There are three movements to this  concerto, a strong, driving first movement, an introspective second movement, and energetic finale that brings  the work to a brilliant conclusion. Lynn Harrell tosses off the score's manifold difficulties with the greatest of ease.

Sinfonia concertante, Op. 29 was composed in 1958 when Rózsa was working on his score for Ben-Hur.  Written for superstars Heifetz and Piatigorsky, the conflict between the two regarding importance of solo parts is outlined in Nick Jones' CD notes.  Heifetz felt there was too much focus on the cello; eventually Rózsa made some changes to pacify the famous violinist—could anyone really stand up against him? The premiere was in 1966, but not with Heifetz/Piatigorsky. At Heifetz' suggestion, Rozsa revised the second movement, Theme and Variations, scoring it for a smaller orchestra, and it gained a life of its own removed from the Sinfonia concertante. The two famous soloists performed and recorded Theme and Variations  for RCA (also not currently available).  McDuffie and Harrell are exemplary soloists in this new recording. Throughout the Atlanta Symphony is in top form, Telarc's engineering perfectly balanced, well-defined  and resonant.  Recommended!

R.E.B. (Feb. 2000)