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Epic Hollywood
  • Composed by Miklós Rózsa
  • Tadlow Music / 2016 / 91m

There is no film composer to whose music the adjective “epic” could more appropriately be used than the great Miklós Rózsa, whose long and distinguished career spanned all types of movie – and his wonderfully florid music graced them all.  He wrote numerous works for the concert hall, his film career included his celebrated “noir” phase, but it’s his lush and sweeping music for a variety of larger-than-life adventures that is the focus of this album, the aptly-named Epic Hollywood, a recording of a concert featuring the City of Prague Philharmonic in their home city’s Dvorak Hall, conducted by Nic Raine in September 2015.

Rózsa’s music of this style lends itself so well to a concert setting and this must have been some occasion to attend because the album is nothing short of breathtaking, a fast-paced journey through some of the composer’s greatest hits with not a dull moment on the 91-minute double CD.  It all opens with a pair of pieces from El Cid, one of Rózsa’s very best scores – the brilliant “Overture” and sumptuous “Love Theme”, featuring an exquisite violin solo by Lucie Svehlova, so ravishingly romantic and beautiful.  A ten-minute suite from The Thief of Bagdad more than whets the appetite for the recording of the complete score which is forthcoming from Tadlow, particularly the intricate action of “The Market at Basra”.  Providence, directed by Alain Resnais in 1977, is the last film to be represented here, with its beautiful waltz highlighting Jaromir Klepac’s piano solo.

Miklós Rózsa

Miklós Rózsa

A suite from Ivanhoe, the 1952 adaptation of Walter Scott’s classic starring Robert Taylor, showcases the dashingly heroic and masculine score, and thankfully also the exquisite love theme (all the justified attention on his sweeping drama and foot-stomping processionals has possibly led to the composer’s wonderful love themes being underrated over the years).  The 1951 Roman epic Quo Vadis rounds out the first disc.  Rózsa did a great number of historical movies during his time and he did them just so well.  This score is represented by the sumptuous “Romanza” and the grand, stately, intricate “Ave Caesar March”.

Another of those ancient epics (in fact the last one that Rózsa did) opens disc two, Robert Aldrich’s much-derided Sodom and Gomorrah.  But even if the composer reportedly didn’t think much of the film, he still gave it his all and the powerful “Overture” which features both the barnstorming main theme and the love theme is quite a thing; “Theme and Answer to a Dream” just so exquisitely beautiful.  Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is a very different kind of film of course and so we hear a very different kind of music from Rozsa, adapted from his violin concerto and “Gabrielle” is a truly wonderful theme, so rich and rewarding and beautiful.

The swashbuckling adventure of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is up next and the suite includes the delightful action piece “Sinbad Battles Kali”, so classy and refined yet furiously exciting.  Then comes another epic, with the stirring “Entr’acte” from King of Kings.  I just adore the Lord’s Prayer Theme from the score which gets a rousing arrangement.  The main programme ends with a suite from the epic of all epics, Ben-Hur, whose score is also the epic of all epics, understandably mentioned frequently when “Best Ever Film Score” discussions come along, or at least those that are aware that cinema existed before 2000.  The “Prelude” introduces several of the score’s great myriad of themes, then the “Love Theme” is heard in all its glory – and it’s some glory.  After the rollicking action piece “The Rowing of the Galley Slaves” comes probably Rózsa’s most famous composition, “Parade of the Charioteers”, which never loses any of its sparkle and is given a furiously fast-paced performance here.

There’s still time for a pair of encores.  The first would have been predicted by anyone attending on the night, noting that a couple of pieces from El Cid had been performed early on but that neither of them was its famous, glorious march, which gets a particularly rousing performance here and just might be my favourite Rózsa piece; then everything closes with the dainty “Castles of Scotland” from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which includes audience participation!

This is just a stunning album, a showcase for some of the most brilliantly entertaining film music written by one of the greatest film composers who ever lived.  It’s highly recommended to those like me who are already familiar with all the music and own numerous recordings of several of the pieces – the performance is sparkling, the recording dynamic (even the audience applause is helpfully segregated into separate tracks, except the couple of occasions they understandably erupt a little early, and apart from in the final encore there’s no other audience noise).  But it’s highly recommended also to those not so familiar with Rózsa’s glorious music – it would make the perfect introduction not just to that, but also perhaps to golden age film music in general (he is undoubtedly one of the most accessible of the golden age masters and this would make an ideal stepping stone into that great wealth of film music from the golden age).  I guess what I’m saying is, whoever you are, don’t hesitate to buy what is certain to be one of the greatest film music releases of 2016.

Rating: ***** | |

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  1. T. Webb (Reply) on Monday 22 February, 2016 at 23:23

    James, thanks, you answered my question, whether this would be a good intro to his work for someone like me who knows literally none of his work. Thanks!

  2. Thomas Kiefner (Reply) on Tuesday 23 February, 2016 at 16:16

    As you know from maintitles I’m a huge admirer of the 2005 release on Telarc of “Three Choral Suites” performed by the Cincinnati Pops conducted by Erich Kunzel. It has a dynamic sound I rarely hear anymore. If you couple that with the 3 LP set Rozsa did on Deutsche Grammophon in 1975 which I transferred to CD you get a nice feeling for Rozsa. I realize few have the 1975 recording but if you can find it get it. I found the recording you reviewed pleasant to listen to but I don’t feel it is outstanding.

  3. Adam Cousins (Reply) on Thursday 25 February, 2016 at 04:51

    Great review James.
    Didn’t realise this was a recording of the actual concert – doh! I shall be ordering it almost immediately…..

  4. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Sunday 28 February, 2016 at 07:36

    Not to take away from this review, are you going to review Tadlow’s rerecording of The Blue Max?

    • James Southall (Reply) on Sunday 28 February, 2016 at 12:19

      Yes, definitely. It will have the same rating!

  5. Daniel Henderson (Reply) on Sunday 28 February, 2016 at 23:41

    They’ve done a lot of great rerecordings recently. Both Conan the Barbarian and Destroyer (reorchestrated for bigger orchestra and the original main title that couldn’t be performed). Obsession was also another high mark.

  6. T. Webb (Reply) on Saturday 12 March, 2016 at 02:16


    THANKS for spoiling your review of the Blue Max!!! Now I won’t even need to bother to read it!!!!

    Hah, just joking, I don’t really need to read it, because I should be getting it soon enough. 🙂 Along with this Rózsa album!

    Keep up the great work here!