Miklós Rozsa: String Quartets Nos. 1 & 2; String Trio / Tippett Quartet


The three works on this CD span the entire career of Miklós Rózsa, from his String Trio, Op. 1 to his final work in the chamber music genre, String Quartet No. 2, Opus 38. The String Quartet No. 1 was written in 1950, roughly mid-way through Rózsa's career. His compositional style, although not without evolution, is surprisingly consistent across all three works. The music takes a little effort to warm to, but its well worth it. The Tippett Quartet, a group that has impressed me frequently in the past, turns in riveting performances.

Known best for his film music, Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995) composed about a hundred movie scores between 1937 and 1982. His early successes included The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Jungle Book (1942). Rózsa's film music career produced three Oscars, for Spellbound, A Double Life and Ben-Hur. Throughout his decades of writing film music, he also produced concert works which were championed by Jascha Heifetz, János Starker and Gregor Piatigorsky among others. The three chamber works on this Naxos CD demonstrate that his 'serious' music demands an attentive hearing from adventurous listeners.

Rózsa's music is reminiscent of Bartók, complete with its own Hungarian folk flavors, but also of Debussy and Ravel. Energetic, often agitated and even harsh at times, the music is frequently contrapuntal in design and interestingly developed with a range of differing textures, meters and unique musical gestures. You can get a good taste of it from the sample provided of the concluding Allegro risoluto of the String Quartet No. 1. If this sample from the First String Quartet exhibits some of the composer's more vigorous music, the String Trio, Op 1 (initially called a Serenade by Rózsa) has him at his most lyrical, especially in the playful Gioioso movement; but even here, feelings of restlessness and austerity are never far-off.

This music certainly will not appeal to everyone, but if you enjoy the quartets of Bartók and Shostakovich, you'll probably appreciate Rózsa's chamber music as well. The clips in the video below are samples from all of the works on this CD.