Piano Concerto op. 31 - I. Allegro Energico 11:25
Piano Concerto op. 31 - II. Adagio 8:54
Piano Concerto op. 31 - III. Vigoroso 8:57
The music breaks no new stylistic ground for Rózsa. It is both energetic and poetic with the former quality predominating. It begins belligerently. But at 1:00 a typically ripe melody chamfers the jagged edges of the attack. However for the rest of the movement the mood alternates between Prokofievlike angularity and lyricism.
The second movement opens in gently pealing mode like Martinu's Toccata e Due Canzone. At 2:49 there is a recollection of the jewelled piano figuration which opens the last movement of Bax's Winter Legends (1930). The last movement is an alert vigoroso boiling over at 6:25 into a grand statement of the big romantic tune.
The work has been overtaken by Rózsa's other concertos in recent years. It's more violent, harder-edged than the string concertos. It's a long work. Miklós Rózsa said it was one of his most difficult pieces, because of all the metric shifts. This is a tougher work than its predecessor, the Spellbound Piano Concerto (developed from the film themes).
Of the commercial recordings available, it seems only Evelyn Chen's on Koch with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is complete. Cuts had been made for the rcording limitations of the LP era. Fanfare also commended Ms. Chen's recording of the Miklos Rozsa's Piano Concerto with James Sedares and the New Zealand Symphony on Koch International, stating "it would be hard to imagine a performance more in tune with the music's dynamism than the one turned in by Evelyn Chen, who wonderfully communicates a kind of virtuoso thrill while also capturing every one of the work's Protean changes of mood.”
The Piano Concerto was premiered by Leonard Pennario and he discusses how it came about here.
Rózsa wrote in his autobiography;
I had met the pianist Leonard Pennario through a mutual
friend. He had recorded my piano sonata on an album with
sonatas by Bartok and Prokofiev; now he asked me for a piano
concerto. This intrigued me, because I am not a pianist. Concertos
composed by pianists fall naturally under the fingers, but (often
because of this) may be deficient in purely musical qualities.
Would I be able to write virtuoso piano music? The scale of a
concerto is much grander than that of a sonata. I had already
made an arrangement of music from Spellbound for piano and
orchestra, the Spellbound Concerto (which Pennario also played
and recorded), but a true concerto was something else.
I began in the summer of 1965, again in my beloved Italy.
I found that writing for piano went much more slowly for
me than writing for strings, which I know intimately, for I had to
try out everything painstakingly at the piano. I finished the
first movement by September, and for the first time stayed on
through the winter because I wanted to finish the piece in Santa
Pennario and I met in Rome the following March (1966). He
was very enthusiastic. He gave the first performance with
the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta during their
1966-67 season. Pennario played extremely well; the public got
very excited and there was a standing ovation at the end.
John Fitzpatrick remembers
The world premiere was in Los Angeles in 1967 -- only the second major work of Rozsa's to debut there. Pennario, Mehta, LA Phil. Reviews were not free of the old-time condescension. One writer noted that only half the audience rose for a standing ovation -- a sign, he thought, of divided response. Pennario played the 1967 L.A. premiere, the Houston second performance, the Honolulu performances, Philadelphi, New York . . . All of those were the full version. The cuts were sprung on the world without explanation in Milwaukee. Previn later led the Houston Symphony, early in his conducting career. Hearing Rozsa himself conduct the great Philadelphia Orchestra in 1968 remains one of the thrilling moments of my life. That performance was broadcast and widely circulated.
The locus: Milwaukee c. 1976. The conductor was Kenneth Schermerhorn. It was January and it was cold! The performance was exciting then, though I had heard Pennario twice before -- in Philadelphia and New York. But it was also disappointing and disorienting, because there were unexplained cuts. Although the experience was very disorienting in 1977, I confess that I can no longer detect the cuts. Perhaps one or two in the first movement and one in the third? Of the commercial recordings. When asked, in Bloomington later that same year, I think Rozsa said that the cuts had been made with a view toward getting the long piece recorded. So why did he play a cut version in concert? Because, Rozsa said, Pennario plays from memory and didn't want to risk confusion by having two different versions in his repertory. By the time Pennario got around to making a studio recording with the Bavarian Radio, the work had been significantly shortened. I have the impression that the performance didn't quite capture the electricity of the live broadcasts.I believe only Evelyn Chen's recording is complete.
Of all Rózsa's premiere soloists Leonard Pennario was the one who kept performing the work over a sustained period. He had more or less retired from active concertizing by the late 1980s. He still had brilliant technique in 1995, which he displayed at Rozsa's memorial service. --------------------
This page serves as information for the 'Works' pages at The Miklos Rozsa Society Website