In the opening concert of the Du Maurier Pops series last Friday evening in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place, Miklos Rozsa conducted the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in a generous selection from his most popular motion picture scores and classical compositions.
Rozsa is an [sic] Hungarian-born conductor and composer who, in seeking an alternative to the strong, traditional elements of classical music in his native land, moved to Hollywood in the early 1940's. He was to become one of its' [sic] major composers of musical scores for some of Hollywood's best-loved films.
His music is as easily recognizable as it is skillfully created. Quo Vadis, Spellbound, El Cid and, of course, Ben Hur are just a few of the important films in which his music has played an influential role.
The first half of the program was devoted entirely to Rozsa's classical works. Overture to a Symphony Orchestra, Hungarian Serenade and Themes [sic], Variations and Finale, Op. 13 are amongst his finest orchestral pieces and were handled skillfully and competently last Friday evening. Yet, the music seemed to lack vitality. Despite the basic variations of tone and rhythm to selections, it remained stiffly traditional in approach, rarely appealing to a highly-attentive audience.
Only with the opening piece, Overture to a Symphony Orchestra, was Rozsa able to extract the commanding rhythms and powerful tones from the Philharmonic to effectively capture audience attention. This composition, created at the time of the Hungarian Revolution, is of necessity a strong type of music with a diving central theme to create a feeling of strength, discipline and patriotic fervour.
The second part of the program concentrated on several of the more popular motion picture scores written by Rozsa in the past thirty years. After all, it's been Rozsa's unique ability to successfully bridge the gap between traditional classical music and the eloquent, much freer style of contemporary motion picture scores which has made him one of today's greatest composers. It is the film music that audiences most often come to hear.
Despite the fragmentary nature of the concert, Rozsa overcame this with some skillful conducting, relying heavily on the percussion and brass sections of the orchestra to fully compliment his own personally aggressive style and to effectively set the mood for the resounding opening prelude from Ben Hur and the equally penetrating overture from the motion picture, El Cid.
It was unfortunate that the concert relied too much on presenting only brief selections from some of the gifted composer's best compositions. It didn't allow for much in the way of complete musical development. This was particularly evident on "Spellbound" Concerto for Orchestra, an imaginative piece requiring a slow initial movement to help create suspense and allow many of the musical elements and effects to reflect the paranoia of the major character of the film.
Still, there were many musically inspiring moments throughout the two and a half hour concert. The mixture of Moorish, almost medieval music from El Cid provided a haunting undertone initially to the second half of the concert.
The selections from Spellbound and Ben Hur provided an interesting contrast musically. While the Spellbound Concerto provided a myriad of special effects and a slower rhythmic approach, the music from Ben Hur was characteristically more powerful and complex.
For the most part, it was an entertaining performance — a well-paced concert encompassing a general diversity of rich sounds, rythmns [sic] and basic human sentiments — all a major part of Rozsa's commanding musical style.