Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
The Roots of Heaven [34:02]
David Copperfield
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/William Stromberg
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, 4–7 April 2000

A legend in British concert halls, Sir Malcolm Arnold was also in demand as a composer of film music in Hollywood and beyond. Including an overture for the New York première, the music written for The Roots of Heaven adds drama and atmosphere to a classic tale about African wildlife. The score for David Copperfield was one of his most expressive and memorable, summed up as 'truly amazing' by director Delbert Mann. This disc of Arnold’s music was brought to life by using reconstructed scores produced by John Morgan. It was first issued by Marco Polo (8.225167) as part of the label’s series of film score recordings (review review).

The Roots of Heaven (1958) tells the story of one man’s efforts to prevent the African elephant becoming extinct. I personally find the 34 minutes included here really frustrating and irritating. This is nothing to do with Arnold’s music or Morgan’s reconstruction. The problem is that we have twenty tracks in the selection with the majority running for less than two minutes each. It’s just not musically satisfying. In essence we are given some rather good ideas that fizzle out and go nowhere. As an accompaniment to a film that’s OK but without the visual images to support the music it doesn’t work. The opening overture is the one exception. As soon as it starts you know that it is by Malcolm Arnold. Nobody else could have written that cheeky, quirky opening theme. This is typical of the composer as is the sweeping string tune that follows. The orchestration is classic Arnold. Having never seen the film it is still blatantly obvious that the setting is Africa. The sound of African drums is never far away and there is a tangible sense of open spaces throughout the score. His depiction of the elephants is charming – heavy and grandiose with a contra-bassoon thrown in to add a subtle comedy element. There are also passages that use the style of swing and jazz (clarinet especially) and moments of drama and dissonance during the hunting sequences. It’s such a shame that none of these fleeting, memorable ideas ever gets developed and put to good use in a true symphonic style.

David Copperfield (1969) was Malcolm Arnold’s last film score, used in the TV adaptation directed by Delbert Mann. The music is in a traditional romantic vein with fabulous scoring and sweeping melodies. Return to Yarmouth is a wonderful tune and Visit to Aunt Betsy isn’t far behind. Mr. Micawber shows us the humorous side of the composer. The syncopated clarinet solo is superb and is rather reminiscent of the Clarinet Concerto that Arnold composed for Benny Goodman. Alas, as in The Roots of Heaven, the fragments don’t flow as a satisfying whole.

This disc is probably for film buffs and Malcolm Arnold fanatics. Hats off to John Morgan and conductor William Stromberg. They have plugged a gap in the Arnold discography and many will be grateful for their efforts. The playing of the Moscow Orchestra is committed and enthusiastic. The sound has a limited dynamic range and the engineers can’t resist the occasional spotlighting of soloists but overall the recording is easy on the ear and the music is well served. I love the music of Malcolm Arnold but discs such as this with their tantalising snippets aren’t really for me.

John Whitmore

Previous review: John France

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