Latest reviews of new albums:

When I first started making the move from my casual love of the music of films I loved while I was growing up into a more obsessive passion for film music and wanted to explore its golden age, there were only really two composers whose music from the golden age was particularly widely-available on CD – Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rózsa. While Herrmann turned out to be too much for my tiny, youthful brain at the time (I realise his brilliance now, of course, now my brain is older even if no less tiny) – but Rózsa was an instant hit with me. His music was so exuberant, so full of passion, and key for a budding film music enthusiast always seemed to paint such a vivid musical picture. Even though – amazingly – less time had passed then since the release of Ben-Hur than has passed today since the release of Jurassic Park, it didn’t just sound like it was from a different era, it was a kind of transportation back to that era.

Decades later, my admiration for and love of the great Hungarian’s music is undiminished – while composed very much in that romantic European vernacular established by Max Steiner and others at the dawn of film music as we know it, Rózsa had such a formidably distinctive style that I doubt you would need to listen to more than a couple of bars of his music – any of his music – before being able to identify that those bars of music could have been composed by him, and only him. Being so distinctive has led to commentary over the years about his music sounding the same – but in truth you would never mistake El Cid for Quo Vadis, or Julius Caesar for King of Kings.

Miklós Rózsa

Rózsa was a master musical storyteller – as was typical at the time, the application of the music in the movies is essentially as it was in the silent era – the film does A, the music does A – in this composer’s case, done so vividly that you can close your eyes while listening to the music and the film just plays out in your head. He leaves you in no doubt at any moment as to what is happening and how you should feel about it. For decades and decades, that was considered to be the whole point of film music (nowadays, clearly not).

That’s all fine – but to live on today it needs it to be more than that – it has to be good music. And it is great music. One of my first album exposures to Rózsa was Intrada’s re-recording of his score for Richard Thorpe’s 1952 adaptation of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, which starred Robert Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine. Bruce Broughton conducts the Sinfonia of London in a flawless performance, dynamically recorded, of the full hour-long score. It is a spectacular recording, possibly the finest film score re-recording there’s ever been.

The collection of themes is nothing short of stunning. The Prelude opens with the heraldic theme for Ivanhoe himself – a trademark angular Rózsa theme, this one presented as an heroic fanfare in this initial form, it is so full of adventure and romance. The second half of the cue brings us Richard the Lionheart’s theme, which is everything you would hope a theme for Richard the Lionheart may be. In “Rotherwood” we hear the dynamic Norman theme, its application in this case providing a vibrant energy to proceedings.

As good as they are – and Ivanhoe’s theme in particular is spectacular – arguably even better are the themes for the two leading ladies. “Lady Rowena” presents as exquisite a love theme as the golden age of film music ever produced – an exquisite fantasy for strings, full of romance and yearning, I think it may be the most beautiful thing the composer wrote in his career (which is saying something). And then he follows this up with another one that’s just about as good – introduced in the closing stages of “Squire Wamba” and then interplayed with Ivanhoe’s theme in “Rebecca”, Rebecca’s theme is a slightly more forceful, domineering melody than Rowena’s (and heard more frequently) – and it’s just as beautiful. Later in the score, “Rebecca’s Love” is a real highlight, a five-minute masterpiece in miniature with a glorious interplay of thematic material in the opening section before her theme shines on its own.

The composer uses the full colour palette as he constructs his score from this outstanding thematic base (with various other motifs coming and going along the way) – at times comic, at times romantic, at many times dashing and adventurous. There’s no shortage of action music, either, with the climax of this occurring over a through-composed 15-minute sequence near the end of the film, spread across two musical cues, “The Battlement” and “Saxon Victory”. The music does so much heavy-lifting here (the composer actually revealed years later that he was scoring the vision of the movie he had from the novel, rather than the movie itself which he felt was lacking). There’s a great, sinister theme for the Saxons which plays off against the more heroic themes established earlier in the score – and the brass section in particular gets a heck of a workout as the composer’s vision is played out in thunderous fashion in some of the most exciting action music to come from his pen.

This is a reference-quality recording of one of the greatest scores of the golden age. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. And as for Miklós Rózsa – I was deliberately facile earlier when I said that when the film does A, the score does A. Because while that is the case – in this composer’s hands, the score actually does so much more. Listen to “Farewell”, as the composer reveals for the first time that Ivanhoe’s and Rebecca’s themes play in perfect counterpoint to each other – it’s special. He was a special composer. The artistry on display here is so impressive – the detail, the deployment of the large body of themes – every single mark made on the score manuscript was there for a purpose. Ivanhoe is just glorious.

Buy from Amazon

Tags: , ,

  1. It‘s quiet in here! Why not leave a response?