This is a double CD collection of the huge film soundtracks of Miklos Rozsa. They are huge in terms of impact, and they need to be since they accompany a number of colossal stories in the historical epic mold. Rozsa's music is well-suited to this genre with its full orchestral sound, and his facility for creating bold fanfares to accompany on-screen spectacle. It is no understatement to say that Rozsa virtually defined this musical genre. Any film and soundtrack must balance the spectacle with human touches, from love and romance to fear and hate. Rozsa does this superbly with a great feel for action and adventure, and he demonstrates this flexibility in a variety of different genres and soundscapes throughout this collection.
The first film covered is "Ben-Hur" giving the album its title. The three tracks chosen are among the best from a consistently thrilling soundtrack covered in full in our review of Ben-Hur. Next we have the contrasting mood of the Valse Crespesculaire from "Providence". Mood is the right word because this is a thoughtful work for piano and orchestra. With "Julius Caesar" we are back into epic mode with a fanfare heralding a grand funeral march as befits this famous Roman Emperor. With "El Cid" we start with another fanfare introducing epic adventure music with a Spanish flavour. The wonderful Love Theme from El Cid is an escapist and yet touching romance with the exotic flavours of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade, evocative solo violin and ornamental flourishes.
"Sodom and Gomorrah" is back into Biblical Epic territory with brass fanfares, large-scale story-telling and tormented love. The informative sleeve notes with the CD tell us that this movie was to have been scored by Dimitri Tiomkin but he was unable to when he fell ill. The dark side of this score certainly suggests that Rozsa might be an ideal composer for dark Hitchcockian thrillers. "Beau Brummel" starts with a Pomp and Circumstance march sugesting the presence of Royalty, then falls into a wistful theme. With "Spellbound" we find that Rozsa is indeed a good choice for a Hitchcock film of powerful love tangled in a mysterious psychological thriller. In this soundtrack and also in the "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" it is easy to detect that Rozsa paved the musical path for Bernard Herrmann.
Giving some welcome respite, "The Thief of Bagdad" is a lighter Arabian Nights adventure story with eastern mysteries, flying clockwork horses (you can hear the mechanism in the percussion section of the orchestra!), busy bazaars and evil magicians. The sleeve notes tell us that Rozsa was reluctant to score "King of Kings" because it meant that he would be covering the story of Christ for the third time (following Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur). However he was clearly persuaded to take the task on once more, producing these tracks for chorus and orchestra and a setting of The Lords Prayer created especially for the original soundtrack album. This reverential work would not be out of place in a cathedral.
The two cues from "All the Brothers were Valiant" come from opposite ends of the film, and also contrast musically. The opening introduces a sea-going story while the finale starts seriously following the death of a major character before harking back to the original opening mood. With "Madame Bovary" we again hear Rozsa employing the musical form of a waltz, this time unmistakably in the Viennese tradition, with a leaning towards similar impressionist excesses as in Ravel's La Valse - a demented waltz on the wild side! "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" tells of high adventure on the high seas, with some trully powerful moments from the battle scene in the middle. With "Quo Vadis" we hear the first of Rozsa's Historical Epics which was to set the mold for further movies and soundtracks in a similar vein. All the Rozsa elements are there in this suite, with dark fanfares, marches and powerful choral writing sandwiching quieter moments of dance and romance.