Marco Polo's distinguished film music series now encompasses a second album of British film music (The first was Philip Sainton's Moby Dick). This very good recording celebrates the 80th birthday of Sir Malcolm Arnold in grand style with two scores for 20th Century Fox productions.
The Roots of Heaven was a major production filmed in East Africa in 1958 (to the great discomfort of its cast - Eddie Albert for instance almost going mad). It starred Errol Flynn in what was to be his last major film although in actual fact he played the supporting role of the drunken ex-British officer, Major Forsythe to Trevor Howard's leading portrayal of Morel, obsessed with protecting Africa's elephants.
Arnold wrote an exciting, vibrant, colourful and witty score for this film that included ethnic music (using, for instance, in the Fort Lamy cue: tom-toms, marimba, and maracas) and very evocative material to depict the elephants - their strength and nobility and their lumbering gait is vividly sketched. He also includes more seductive music for the charms of Minna (Juliette Gréco) and tensely dramatic underscoring for cues like 'The Elephant Hunt'. Interestingly there is also included a little extra material contributed in post production by Alfred Newman to flesh out the score as the film was edited.
David Copperfield is graced by one of Arnold's most hauntingly beautiful bitter-sweet melodies which first makes its appearance in the sweeping Main Title - the music of which has all the Romantic intensity that one associates with Steiner and Korngold. This score is a real find - it sparkles. It is atmospheric, tender and romantic, dramatic and witty (especially for the Micawber scenes).
As usual the standard of the documentation is very high with essays on the career of Sir Malcolm, on the production of the films and the music with full cue-by-cue analyses. There are also reminiscences of Sir Malcolm by film composers, Howard Blake and John Scott as well as a message from the composer himself.
Two worthy scores beautifully played by the Moscow orchestra. A worthy addition to this distinguished Marco Polo series
Gary S. Dalkin adds:-
Conceived as an birthday tribute to Sir Malcolm Arnold this album presents two essentially complete scores by the composer. Regardless of the alphabetical billing, the disc begins with almost 34 minutes from The Roots of Heaven (1958), concluding with 28 minutes from Arnold's final movie score, the 1970 television film version of David Copperfield.
The Roots of Heaven was a large-scale adventure drama with a before-its-time environmental theme, directed by John Huston, starring Errol Flynn, Trevor Howard and Julietet Gréco, and made with enormous difficulty under dreadful conditions in French Equatorial Africa. By all accounts the film, which was made with a then enormous budget of $4 500 000, is best considered an ambitious failure, though one with grade A production values. Not the least of which is Malcolm Arnold's strong score.
There are 20 cues from the film on this disc, beginning with an overture specially written for the New York premiere, and also including two of four additional cues which 20th Century Fox head of music, Alfred Newman developed from Arnold's material when it was decided at the last minute that some extra music was required. These two cues account for 3 minutes of the score, and are entirely in keeping with Arnold's work. There is an Elephant theme which has its genesis in an African folksong recorded by Henri Patterson, who also wrote a motif which Arnold orchestrated and developed into Minna's theme.
This score was penned the year after The Bridge on the River Kwai and some of the material - try the rising figure at 0.44 in 'Morel's Retribution', or the brass fanfares a little later in the same cue, and which recur through the score - is very similar indeed. Try also the 'building tension' music a minute or so into 'Morel's Camp'. Indeed, if you like Arnold's much more famous score for the David Lean epic you should like this too for it is in very much the same vein, with the main differences being in the African percussion, a lovely lilting melody for Minna, the Juliette Gréco character, and some orchestral-jazzy inflections. Equal parts bold and rousing, then atmospheric and delicate, there is much to enjoy. At virtually 4 minutes 'The Elephant Hunt' is the only extended set-piece, while some of the very short cues such as the 46 second 'The Great Elephants' abruptly tail off to nothing; a case where some Christopher Palmer style tidying up would have made for a more satisfying listen. Still, this is a minor quibble and should not put anyone off experiencing some excellent film music.
David Copperfield was a hybrid production conceived as being able to serve the two very different masters of film and television. Made as a TV movie for America by Omnibus Films, the Dicken's adaptation was released to cinemas elsewhere in the world by 20th Century Fox. Omnibus specialised in adapting the classics for TV and film, and certainly paid attention to the quality of music in their productions. John Williams scored their 1968 version of Heidi, and was to have scored David Copperfield. He did return to offer one of his best scores for the 1970 Jane Eyre. So television film or not, this David Copperfield received feature film production values, and boasted an almost unbelievable cast which included Ralph Richardson, Wendy Hiller, Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough, Susan Hampshire and many other household names.
The 13 tracks from the score makes a very effective contrast to The Roots of Heaven. Romantic, sweeping and nostalgic, and built around a yearning and haunting main theme, this music makes a fitting valedictory to Arnold's film career. In the classic tradition the main title is an overture in all but name, unashamedly and unapologetically old fashioned at the height of turn of the 60's pop scoring. Rightly acclaimed as one of the composer's finest scores, this more than The Roots of Heaven, which almost is The Bridge on the River Kwai II, is the best reason to buy this album. Arnold's distinctive style shines through a score which carries all the intensity and emotional charge of Bernard Herrmann, the achingly lovely slow waltz at the heart of the music reinforcing the parallel. Elsewhere there is humour, suspense, drama and immense tenderness, as though Arnold was saying farewell to the cinema yet almost did not want to leave.
Performances of this very English music are extraordinary to the extent that one would never guess this was a Russian orchestra. Similarly, the recording captures the delicacy and detail as well as the atmosphere and sweep of Arnold's music with great fidelity. A special word of praise must go to the booklet, which over 32 pages offers all the information anyone could possibly want. After a forward by Sir Malcolm Arnold, there is a biography of the composer followed by notes on both films and their scores with track by track annotations and a personal note all by Sir Malcolm's Personal Representative (USA) James Cox. There are further notes by John Morgan, stills, score extracts and other illustrations. A genuine labour of love and a fascinating read.
Don't let my less than complete endorsement of The Roots of Heaven put you off what is a fine album. David Copperfield is simply gorgeous, and this is another first-rate addition to the Marco Polo Classic Film Scores series. Happy 21st of October, Sir Malcolm!
Gary S. Dalkin