MIKLOS ROZSA: Three Choral Suites = Ben-Hur; Quo Vadis; King of Kings

by | May 17, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MIKLOS ROZSA: Three Choral Suites = Ben-Hur; Quo Vadis; King of
Kings – Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Craig Jessop, dir.; Cincinnati Pops
Orchestra/Erich Kunzel – Telarc multichannel SACD-60631, 61:54 ****:

These three motion pictures were among the finest film scores of
leading Hollywood composer Rozsa. He had begun planning to arrange
portions of the music from the three into choral suites but died before
it could be completed. Friends, pupils and admirers completed the work
and this is the world premiere of the suites. Presenting them in
surround sound seems most appropriate since that is the theatrical film
experience for music soundtracks today.

The Hungarian composer had sung as a youngster in the famous Gewandhaus
choir and he developed a sense of vocal design, writing songs and
motets early in his composing career. Rozsa did his first film score in
l936 in England, and in l940, while working on The Thief of Baghdad the
entire production was moved to Hollywood due to the war and he began
his long career there. He won his first Academy Award for the music to
Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which used the theremin. It was at MGM in the
1950s that he wrote the monumental scores for the three films in these
choral suites.

The Ben Hur and King of Kings scores were arranged and reconstructed by
Daniel Robbins and the Quo Vadis suite was conceived by Christopher
Palmer but involved three others including conductor Kunzel in bringing
it to life. The first two suites have six sections and The King of
Kings has nine plus an occasional spoken voice for whom I could not
find a credit. The sections describe some of the key scenes in the epic
films, such as Rowing of the Galley Slaves, Parade of the Charioteers,
Ave Caesar March, etc. King of Kings has more religious titles such as
Nativity, Herod’s Feaste, Pieta. It’s interesting that the last
movement of both the Ben-Hur and Quo Vadis suites has the same title:
Miracle and Finale. These are world preimiere recordings of all three

The technical information states that the Cincinnati Pops were recorded
at Music Hall in Cincinnati and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was
recorded in Maurice Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City. So it is obvious
the choir was not present when the orchestral sections were recorded,
and the two were mixed together iin post-production. The choice of a
smaller hall than the voluminous Mormon Tabernacle where the choir
usually performs is also obvious – when blended together on the final
5.1 mix the two entirely different acoustics would be fighting one
another and generating a very confusing surround soundfield to the
listener! The first entrance of the 360-voice choir is from the
surround channels in Ben-Hur and definitely draws attention to itself.
Most of their contributions are of the “oo, ahhh” sort of backing, but
occasional words are heard, but not important enough to provide a
libretto in the note booklet. Rozsa’s music has a highly individual
sound to it – a sort of exotic tinge that seems to fit it well to most
any exotic subject on the screen. The same signature is heard in much
of his abstract concert music as well. My personal favorite of the
three scores here was Ben-Hur, but I am of two minds about presenting
the three scores together since some listeners could well come away
with the impression that Rozsa writes almost the same music over again
for each film.

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