Review: Three Choral Suites by Miklos Rozsa
4.5 / 5 Stars
When asked to think of a composer who has influenced my mindset of what it means to hear "Biblical" or "Roman" music, Miklos Rozsa comes immediately to mind. The Hungarian born composer is responsible for such classics as Ben-Hur, Julius Caesar, El Cid, King of Kings and many many more. Before his death in 1995, he was working on choral suite arrangements of music from three of his best known projects: Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis and King of Kings. Now, years later, Telarc is releasing a world premiere recording (both on regular CD and SACD) of these reconstructed suites (which were completed by Rozsa's pupils and friends), recorded with The Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir under the baton of Erich Kunzel.
The first suite is from Ben-Hur, and the performance is dead-on. From the inspiring "Overture" we finally get some beautiful choir work with "Star of Bethlehem / Adoration of the Magi" as Christ's birth is recounted. "Rowing of the Galley Slaves" and "Parade of the Charioteers" are classics in their own right, but the lack of any choir is a bit frustrating. I know that it wouldn't be conventional, but I would love to hear a big choral arrangement with those tracks - and that is what I was hoping this album would provide. Apparently Rozsa felt otherwise, and I can hardly fault him! "Alleluia" and "Miracle and Finale" let the chorus really burst through, and I can only imagine how wonderful this would sound if I had the SACD version (and a player).
Next up is a suite of music from the Roman epic Quo Vadis. The "Prelude" is sung in Latin, but in a strange twist, "Fertility Hymn" and "Miracle and Finale" are sung in English (with the last cue even featuring a brief moment of narration)! The rest of the suite is all orchestral, but allows the listener to immerse themselves into Rozsa's vision of Rome. The "Ave Caesar March" is definitely a cousin to the "Parade of the Charioteers".
Finally, the album wraps up with a lengthy 21-minute long suite of music from King of Kings. This Biblical epic almost needs no description. It truly sets the bar when it comes to musical geography. The lush strings, raw emotion, and powerful choir combine to make it quite an experience to listen to. From the heavenly "Overture" to the militaristic "Roman Legions", through to the uplifting "Miracles of Christ" and the emotionally sad "Pieta" and the triumphant "Resurrection and Finale", this suite definitely shows off the abilities of the performers. Running an hour long, this album is a must-have for any fan of Rozsa's work. If you're unlucky enough to be unfamiliar with his music, consider this a mandatory primer.