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Editor's Choice

Best of the Month for September  

 

Being the FMR editor makes for some highly pleasant listening experiences and I'm glad this thrilling and excellently recorded CD set is one of them.

Steve Vertlieb has provided an extensive review below.

It is my greatest pleasure to name this superb CD set as Best of the Month.

--Roger Hall

 

ROZSA’S “EL CID” REBORN

 

The screen career of composer Miklos Rozsa flourished in the darkened atmosphere of motion picture theaters from 1937 until 1982. In this enchanted realm, a portal to dreams and wistful cinematic poetry, few practitioners during Hollywood’s golden era ever achieved the lyricism and infinite beauty of his musical inspiration. In April, 2007, producer James Fitzpatrick and Tadlow records commemorated the one hundredth anniversary of Rozsa’s birth with their premiere recording of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, a vividly rhapsodic gem from late in both Rozsa’s, and director Billy Wilders’s careers. Their remarkably faithful re-creation of the tender, romantic score was a landmark in the evolution and presentation of motion picture music on compact discs, easily eclipsing competitive releases, becoming the most deeply satisfying recording of the year.

After the release of this exquisite album, Fitzpatrick dared to dream of going back to the recording studio to record his private fantasy, his “holy grail,” the spectacularly ambitious symphony written by Rozsa for the 1961 Samuel Bronston production of EL CID. The sheer enormity of the score and its orchestral complexity would provide a difficult, challenging task for anyone courageous enough to attempt it, and had proven calamitous for past producers attempting to bring the monumental score back to life.

For his part, Miklos Rozsa found the experience of creating the music for EL CID a bittersweet accomplishment. He had worked dilligently in researching an authentic sound and representation of the period, and in illustrating symphonically the passion and tragedy of the noble Cid. He had worked with Bronston previously on “King of Kings,” and enjoyed a relatively trouble free, and satisfactory collaboration. However, there were silent undercurrents of trouble brewing just beneath the outer surface of professional civility that threatened to corrupt the composer’s work. The full impact and scope of the desecration would not reveal itself until the crushing realization at a screening of the completed picture, for it was then that Miklos Rozsa realized that a massive twenty three minutes of score had callously been edited out of the soundtrack, replaced unimaginatively by drums and sound effects. So disappointed was the composer at this wanton destruction of his work that he cancelled a tour he had earlier agreed to, promoting the album’s much publicized release. Despite the absence of nearly half an hour of music, Rozsa’s score for EL CID was to take its place among the most legendary musical works ever created for the screen and ranks comfortably with “Ben Hur” as the composer’s two most cherished compositions for the cinema.

In restoring the music for EL CID to its original grandeur, Fitzpatrick would have to research and locate all of the missing elements of the massive work as Rozsa had envisioned it. Nic Raine, whose restoration so nobly captured the beauty of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES a year earlier was asked to reprise his expertise in bringing EL CID sublimely back to life, with the studied assistance of Patrick Russ and Jeff Atmajian, structured from the superb original orchestrations by long time Rozsa collaborator Eugene Zador. With Raine himself in command of The City of Prague Philharmonic orchestra once again, recording sessions were broken into two separate segments, in order to allow Fitzpatrick to raise the remaining, necessary expenditures. Recording in Prague commenced in September, 2007 at both Barrandov and Smecky Music Studios, concluding during the second sessions in March, 2008, with the recording of the unforgettable organ solo accomplished by Jan Holzner at St. Ludmilla’s Church. The result of this intensely personal and cherished dream project by producer James Fitzpatrick has been completed and unveiled after months of tantalyzing expectation, and the resultant recording is cause for celebration by anyone finding joy in the simple love of music. James Fitzpatrick has often remarked that members of the Prague Philharmonic had fallen in love with Miklos Rozsa’s music during the recording of THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, and were hoping that they’d be afforded the opportunity to record one of the composer’s most cherished and inspired works. As in the case of SHERLOCK HOLMES, these dedicated musicians have risen joyously to the occasion once more, performing their hearts out in inspired performance. The new Tadlow recording is, in a word, magnificent. This is a rich, superlative re-creation that must, by any reasonable rationale, stand as as the most important cd release of the year.

From the opening strains of Miklos Rozsa’s EL CID “Overture,” the music sweeps over the listener in waves of symphonic grandeur, a thrilling promise of adventure and heroism purified by heroism’s first light. The “Prelude” rapturously conveys love’s burning passion shared by Rodrigo and Chimene, engulfing their lives in tragic destiny, caressed by one of Rozsa’s most searingly exquisite melodies.

“The Fight For Calahorra” is deleriously exhilarating in both its complexity and execution, a raging torrent of valiant accompaniment, heroic and proud, while “The Road To Asturias” is as exciting a stretch of musical canvas as has ever been heard either on screen or in the concert hall. “Coronation” is a majestic proclamation, regal and royal in its aspirations to the throne, thematically reminiscent in many ways of similarly regal whisperings in such earlier incarnations as YOUNG BESS, and DIANE.

“The Barn – Love Theme” finds Rodrigo and Chimene enjoying momentary refuge from the storm growing all about them, lost in each other’s arms, while an intoxicating reprise of their tender, deeply passionate love theme swells in consummate crescendo.

“Entracte” – “The El Cid March” opens the second half of the film with some of the most exciting and courageous music of the composer’s distinguished career. It is a glorious symphonic salutation, embracing the heroism and nobility of the Cid’s valiant crusade against corruption and villainy, and virtually impossible to listen to without raising goosebumps. The scoring is simply breathtaking, inspired by Rozsa’s seemingly limitless artistic brilliance and imagination.

“The Twins” brings sensitive and tender closure to Rodrigo’s reunion with his beloved family, holding his twin daughters in his arms for the first time, overcome by emotion while setting aside war and finding meaning and value once more in the gentle remembrance of peace.

“Fod God And Spain”/ ”Battle Of Valencia” paints a bloody landscape in powerfully imposing musical expression, patriotic and grand, yet ultimately fatalistic in its portentous promise of grim, inevitable conclusion.

“The Cid’s Death” chillingly sounds the death knell for its soon to be martyred warrior in a final furious musical montage, encapsulating heroic themes with the heinous reality of war’s untimely summation.

“The Legend And Epilogue” heralds the final battle, a brooding, hauntingly evocative organ solo as the fallen Cid rises in death to battle evil from the grave, gallantly riding into history as the frightened enemy falls in superstition and defeat. In death the Cid becomes larger than life, a gallant soldier whose self sacrifice and legend will echo in singular integrity and heroism throughout the storied corridors of history. Rozsa’s glorious tribute to courage and humanity swells, with orchestra and chorus, to supreme conclusion and sublimely eloquent appraisal of a man who gave everything to serve his people, and his country.

Inspired and inspiring, this magnificent recording is nearly perfect in every way…from its devotional reverence to cinema’s greatest composer to its spectacular performance of, perhaps, his most significant work for the cinema.

A sumptuous accompanying booklet lovingly recounts the evolution of the film, its music, and the restoration of the score in its entirety. Sleeve notes by Rozsa historian and musicologist Frank K. DeWald are both literate and informative.

This is truly an extraordnary achievement by everyone concerned, restoring one of filmdom’s most brilliant scores to its original glory and importance in motion picture legend and history.

 

Steve Vertlieb
15 September 2008

 

See also these links

A Tribute to Miklos Rozsa in Washington, DC by Steve Vertlieb

Steve Vertlieb: A Life Among the Stars (from The Thunder Child web magazine)

100th Brithday Tribute to Miklos Rozsa

CD Review: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

 


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