Film scores for The Roots of Heaven and David Copperfield
(Score restorations by John Morgan)
Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2001
CD No: MARCO POLO 8.225167
I’ve 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 there’s a parallel with me losing sight of this release and now prioritising it the day before the celebrations. It’s been my loss – this is a great CD!
Arnold is (nearly) always himself – there’s 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 man’s 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. There’s 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 … [there’s] none better than Malcolm”. His final film score, Arnold again writes music of a descriptive power that doesn’t 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 he’d make of Arnold’s symphonies – and the Moscow Symphony (sounding remarkably un-Russian!) play both scores with commitment and appreciation; I suspect that musicians adore playing Arnold’s stuff because it’s 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.