Film scores for The Roots of Heaven and David Copperfield
(Score restorations by John Morgan)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg
CD No: MARCO POLO 8.225167 Duration: Reviewed: October 2001
Arnold Film Scores on CD
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Ive been neglecting this CD. It arrived several months ago and has sat in the pile unopened. Malcolm Arnold is about to celebrate his 80th-birthday; he too seems to have been forgotten in the last few months the Proms notably failed to play anything of his in this significant-birthday year and so theres a parallel with me losing sight of this release and now prioritising it the day before the celebrations. Its been my loss this is a great CD!
Arnold is (nearly) always himself theres exceptions, the remarkable Ninth Symphony for example and his characteristic scoring and harmonies are as much in his symphonies as his film music; equally an idea could complement a cinematic image or be the basis of a symphonic movement. Has this cost him? Hopefully not.
The Roots of Heaven is about a mans campaign to save African elephants from extinction. Dating from 1958, directed by John Huston with Trevor Howard and Errol Flynn in the cast, Arnold supplied a winning score, one full of atmosphere and memorable invention ranging from drama to tenderness with some wonderful long lines of lyricism. The scoring is predictably superb; Arnold knows the orchestra from the inside having been a trumpeter in the London Philharmonic for several years. Theres plenty of local colour too the African plains are vividly suggested and this 34-minute symphonic poem had me absorbed in both programmatic and musical senses; there really is some memorable invention here.
David Copperfield is from 1970. Director Delbert Mann has since commented that seldom, in my experience, has music ever served a film so well [theres] none better than Malcolm. His final film score, Arnold again writes music of a descriptive power that doesnt require the film itself. Depth and communication, a wellspring of human endeavour and feeling, dominate music that leaves the listener with a fund of tunes to whirl round the head; what a tunesmith Arnold is. And how naturally he turns from pathos to wit.
There is in both these scores a sense of narrative and organic direction; no soundbites here. The performances are prepared with unstinting love by William Stromberg I wonder what hed make of Arnolds symphonies and the Moscow Symphony (sounding remarkably un-Russian!) play both scores with commitment and appreciation; I suspect that musicians adore playing Arnolds stuff because its so well written.
That leaves the recording quality stunning! and the booklet notes, which are copious in biography, background and track descriptions; some nice pictures too.