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Wonderfully warm Christmas score, straight from the heart
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2004 Knightscove Entertainment; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
Despite featuring a wonderful cast (Brenda Blethyn, Christopher Plummer, Kevin Pollak, Whoopi Goldberg), Blizzard seems to have disappeared completely without trace since its untrumpeted release in 2003. Directed by Star Trek's LeVar Burton, it's a Christmas fairytale about a young girl who just wants to ice skate, and Santa's newest reindeer (the titular Blizzard). It all sounds charming and perhaps it will find its audience in the inevitable yearly television showings around the festive period.
The film's magical score was composed by Mark McKenzie, one of the few film composers around who still writes music constructed around solid themes, and orchestrated properly to allow whatever ensemble is assembled to bring out the music's spirit. In this case, it's a large ensemble indeed, with the 100-piece Slovak Philharmonia being joined by the Lucinca Chorus, all under McKenzie's baton. Working with such a large group allowed the composer to exploit the resources at his disposal to bring out all the magic of Christmas.
This new album, from Intrada's Signature Edition series, opens with the lengthy "Blizzard Suite" which offers an outstanding summary of the score's key themes. It's so soaring, so uplifting, so warm and charming it was used to underscore one of those melancholic montages at the Oscars one year, and it is quite easy to see why. McKenzie writes with so much heart, and when he allows his music to scale these heights it is never less than a joy to behold.
But there's so much more to writing a successful family score than that, and McKenzie delivers the more subtle moments with great charm as well - there are three cues early in the album which display this admirably. Perhaps most impressive is "Flying", a dazzlingly good piece which combines a scaled-down orchestra with a heavenly choir - the effect is, I guess, similar to Danny Elfman's more magical compositions such as Edward Scissorhands, though the music here is distinctly a product of McKenzie's own voice. The following cue, "Don't Be Afraid", again showcases the score's most tender side, highlighting a simply heartmelting theme highlighted by fluttery wind solos; and then, just as "Archimedes" opens as if it will become the first real action track, it segues into gentle comedy, which is enough to guarantee a smile on the listener's face.
Of course, for all this wonderful music, the score's most memorable product is the delightfully playful theme which opens the Suite at the album's start, and is highlighted again in "Air Tag" - with rousing music from the whole orchestra and choir, it's classic Christmas film music enough to brighten any dark winter day. There's time for some classical ballet pastiche in the splendid "Erin's Program" and "Katie's Program". There's a wonderful action cue, "Rescue", which shows that McKenzie has plenty of feathers to his bow, showcasing some thunderous brass-and-percussion effects which make for a thrilling ride. There's more fine action/adventure music in "Donner Jr. and Jeremy" (presumably Donner Jr. is the son of Santa's married reindeer, Donner and Schuler-Donner) - this time McKenzie offers a fine solo trumpet line over the terrific action backing, before allowing the music to soar once more as the track progresses.
The score reaches a rousing close in the wonderful "Finale", which ends one of the most magical, warmhearted film scores in years. It is rare indeed to hear music with such a large heart these days, but the composer has filled the score with it. McKenzie plays tribute to his mentor Jerry Goldsmith in his liner notes, and it is no exaggeration to say that the great man himself would have been proud to have written a score like Blizzard. Highly recommended.