Silva's earliest composer based compilations were decidedly hit and miss, some of them were downright dreadful, but some, like their Jerome Moross and John Barry albums were fabulous. The recent run of double 'Essential' albums have been far superior. After John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and Bernard Herrmann all received their own double CD sets, Miklos Rozsa now receives the Silva Screen treatment. It is to their credit that this album is far superior to what might be expected given the complexity and sheer bravura of Rozsa's most imposing works. It is inevitable that Rozsa will forever be associated with historical epics and none came more epic or blunderingly vast as Ben-Hur and the film is accompanied by what is arguably Rozsa's finest score. Arguable only because had it been anyone but Rozsa, they are unlikely to have equalled it, but what is remarkable as that Rozsa did equal it or come close, many times. The selection here only hints at the rest of the score, but gets things off to an impossibly rousing start.
Although well known for historical epics and in particular scoring films about or in some way featuring the life of Jesus (he scored the Crucifixion sequence on three occasions), they still represent a fairly small selection of his output. While I admire and enjoy Ben-Hur immensely (well, who doesn't?) King of Kings is probably my favouite. It seems even more awe inspiring and wondrous. I can't quite explain why, but it is just one of those intangiable things about a certain score that lifts if above equally accomplished works. It should be noted that while the original score is still available, it doesn't have the best sound and I am dearly hoping that some nice company might re-record it. I would hasten to suggest that given enough time, the Silva Screen team could probably pull it off based on the evidence here. The Roman era crops up again in Julius Caesar and Quo Vadis, both of which are typically excellent and well performed.
I often find that composers who are most famous for a certain type of score or film appeal to me through their less familiar work. It is not to say that I don't find the historical epics thrilling in every respect, but it is easy to forget the more obscure works, the two that stuck out most notably here are Providence and All the Brothers Were Valiant. The former is represented by a gorgeous waltz that eschews the harsh Eastern European soundscape that usually fills Rozsa's pallette, but is more lyrical and expressive. This is aside from the Finale segment which gives the waltz a more turbulent reading. All the Brothers Were Valiant, which must go down as one of the most unwieldy titles ever penned, is about whale hunting and dodgy dealing or something. Whatever the case, Rozsa's noble and suitably nautical Main Title is an unexpected delight and although filled with greater sobriety, the Finale is no less marvellous a composition.
A final mention must go not only to the wonderful Concerto for Orchestra arranged from material written for Hitchcock's Spellbound (another favourite of mine), but also to the fantasy films Rozsa scored. Bernard Herrmann is mostly associated with Ray Harryhausen's unearthly creations, but Rozsa's music is no less florid and inspired as The Thief of Bagdad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad demonstrate. The playing by the City of Prague Philharmonic is generally fine, only during the constant onslaught of taxing and lengthy brass sequences (such as in Parade of the Charioteers) do they flag slightly. It is a shame that Silva weren't able to include a few more obscure items as most of the selections here are rather standard Rozsa choices. Not that I'm complaining, but their other composer double albums seemed more generous in this regard. David Wishart's notes are typically detailed and provide useful background on the films and scores which is useful as I don't think I've seen any of these films. Shocking really. Another marvellous compilation and a good starter kit for those not familiar with Rozsa's music.