David Copperfield.  The Roots of Heaven.
Moscow Symphony Orch/William Stromberg, cond.

MARCO POLO 8.225167 (F) (DDD) TT:  62:09

Several years ago ASV issued a CD of "British Light Music" with Sir Malcolm Arnold's overture The Roots of Heaven, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Gavin Sutherland. (WHL 2116)   This whetted my appetite for more of this fine, big-scale work of Arnold's, and now we have the complete score (33:59) in a fine performance with some music never before recorded.

The Roots of Heaven was based on a novel by Romain Gary, French writer and diplomat, about one man's crusade to save African elephants from extinction.  Morel, a Nazi prison camp survivor, disillusioned with man's inhumanity to man, becomes obsessed with protecting the animals.  As this could not be accomplished politically, he made his crusade personal by hunting the hunters.  Starring a distinguished cast (Trevor Howard, Errol Flynn and Juliette GrÈco) with Orson Welles, Eddie Albert and  Hubert Lom among the supporting actors, the movie was made in 1958 in hot central Africa, to the distress of all concerned --  just about everyone involved in front of and behind the cameras was ill from malaria, dysentery, sunstroke or snake bites.   The oppressive heat induced a mental breakdown for Albert, an American cameraman disappeared, and GrÈco referred to the project as "The Roots of Hell."

Arnold's music includes powerful motifs for the elephants (the composer at his grandest), evocative scoring for serene jungle scenes, and tender love music.   There are 20 tracks each described in detail including five premiere recordings, two of which were developed by Alfred Newman when Darryl Zanuck decided at the last moment that a bit more music was needed.

David Copperfield has the distinction of being a co-production of American television and the BBC; NBC would have telecast rights and 20th Century Fox would release the film in theaters throughout the world.  A sterling mostly British cast was assembled for Dickens's novel -- Ralph Richardson, Wendy Hiller, Michael Redgrave, Edith Evans, Laurence Olivier, Emlyn Williams and Richard Attenborough to mention a few -- and production went smoothly. Producers Frederick Brogger and James Franciscus approached John Williams to write this score but he wasn't available.  Arnold was delighted to be involved; he thought Dickens was England's finest writer, and David Copperfield was among his favorite novels. He wrote themes for all of the principal characters with his usual style and imagination -- the entire project was positive for all concerned.  The movie premiere was in London in January 1970, the television premiere on NBC took place March 15, 1970.  Reviews were mixed but there was no question whatever of the quality of Arnold's score, which the composer considered to be one of his finest, many years later saying modestly, " (it) has some good stuff in it."  Director Delbert Mann said of Sir Malcolm's score, " for the truly amazing...seldom...has music ever served a film so well."

With a total playing time of 28:04, the suite contains 13 tracks three of which are premiere recordings.  This music is, indeed, Sir Malcolm Arnold at his finest and turned out to be his final film score.  A 30-page pamphlet is highly informative and includes articles by James Cox, USA representative of the composer, and notes by John Morgan who arranged/prepared music for these recordings.

Conductor William Stromberg obviously understands the Arnold idiom and the Russian orchestra is in top form.  Sound is clear and resonant with a somewhat boxy bass -- Chandos engineering of the quality heard on their new release of film music of Sir Arthur Bliss would have been welcome.  This is a fitting CD to commemorate Arnold's 80th birthday this year.  Highly recommended!

R.E.B. (November 2001)