The story of how Miklós Rózsa left his native Hungary and brought his talents as a composer of film music to the West is well known. He went first to London and then to California, when the outbreak of war necessitated moving Jungle Book lock, stock and barrel to Hollywood. Though there have been some fine recordings of his more ‘serious’ music - Chandos themselves have made three of them (see below) - it’s for his film music that he will be most remembered.
The BBC Philharmonic and Rumon Gamba were the performers on those three earlier Chandos recordings. This orchestra and conductor also has a long-established history of fine recordings of film music for the label, so it’s only fitting that they should be chosen for this new project.
For all that I enjoyed the earlier albums, I shall be very surprised if this recording of the film music doesn’t outsell all three of them put together. It certainly deserves to be very successful. At least two of the films are all-time classics and I greatly enjoyed this evocation of The Thief of Baghdad and Ben-Hur. In case the music doesn’t quite do the trick for you, there are still photos in the booklet. I don’t think I ever saw Sahara and I’d forgotten Hugh Griffith’s part in Ben-Hur until I saw the photo, though I certainly remember his hell-raising Falstaff on, and reputedly off stage, at Stratford in the early 1960s.
It may seem odd to spend more time on the booklet than the performances but I found the notes most enlightening while I can be short and sweet concerning the performances and say that, short of someone brushing up the original film scores in modern digital sound, they are unlikely ever to be bettered. Rumon Gamba and his team capture the tender aspects of the music just as well as its more dramatic moments.
The recording, to which I listened in CD-quality 16-bit sound, is very good indeed. It captures the colourful nature of the music without ever being over the top or as brightly lit as the composer’s own Phase 4 recordings (see below). Movements such as the Parade of the Chariots, however, which concludes the album on track 24, are suitably Technicolor, though you may well find that you need to turn up the volume to hear the recording at its best.
Other download sites offer Chandos recordings but these are best obtained from their own theclassicalshop.net. They also offer a 24-bit version and if you purchase either the 16-bit or 24-bit the mp3 comes free for your personal player. I wouldn’t suggest trying to listen to the mp3 while out and about - you might find yourself getting too carried away. Subscribers to the Naxos Music Library can sample there but be aware that once you have listened you are likely to want to purchase.
Try some of Gamba’s other film music recordings for Chandos, too. The original music for Scott of the Antarctic is one of my favourites - it makes a fascinating comparison with the Sinfonia Antartica into which Vaughan Williams later shaped most of the material. (CHAN10007: A Recording of the Month - review - review - November 2011/2 DL Roundup - or 3-CD set CHAN10529).
The chief rival to this new recording comes from Australian Decca (Eloquence 4803790, 2 CDs at budget price: A Bargain of the Month - review) with Rózsa himself in the late 1970s conducting the music for Ben Hur and Quo Vadis and Bernard Herrmann the music for Julius Cæsar. Dutton have also given us a 2-CD release of the two composer-conducted recordings, originally made in Phase 4 (CDLK4332). The Ben-Hur suite, which forms the climax of the new recording stands up against even that competition. While the album is not qualified with a ‘Volume 1’ addition, I do hope that Chandos will give us the BBC Philharmonic and Rumon Gamba in the Quo Vadis music, too, as a sequel.
Chandos Movies series review index
Reviews of earlier Rózsa releases on Chandos
Volume 1 CHAN10488: review ~ DL Roundup October 2011/1
Volume 2 CHAN10674: review ~ review ~ DL Roundup October 2011/1
Volume 3 CHAN10738: review ~ review ~ DL Roundup 2012/19