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Truly beautiful music from an underappreciated gem of a composer

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Catalog number
ISE 1008

Album cover copyright (c) 2005/6 Hallmark Hall of Fame; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall

One of the slight frustrations of film music (or more than slight, to some people) is that there are so many talented composers out there who have proved on several occasions that they are more than capable of writing wonderful music for high-profile films, but never seem to be given the opportunity; one such composer is Mark McKenzie, who has written such fantastic scores over his career (mostly in television) that it really is a shame that he doesn't get to flesh his muscles on something really meaty on the big screen.  Nevertheless, as well as orchestrating for many of Hollywood's top composers, he continues to forge ahead in his own right on the small screen, and Intrada has now released two of his tv movie scores on this album as part of their Signature Edition collection.

I haven't seen it, but In From the Night sounds like fairly standard tv movie fare, with a soap opera-ish plot concerning a family being torn apart when a nephew turns up, with suspicions that he has been the subject of child abuse.  Despite this fairly maudlin-sounding story, McKenzie's music is warm-hearted and sweet throughout; he notes that he was trying to underscore "the childlike simplicity of [the nephew's] traumatised character and the unconditional acceptance he received from his aunt" - in doing so, he fashioned some genuinely lovely music, mostly for piano, winds and strings.  The opening theme is a real winner, a lilting and wonderfully warm piece which would appeal to anyone fond of the romantic scores of Georges Delerue (or indeed Mark McKenzie).  The main theme returns in all its glory towards the end of the score in the brief "We Are a Family", before the almost John Barry-like, heartwarming "Can I Still Come Home?"  It's a short score, a shade under twenty minutes, but one which leaves an impression.

The other score on the album is longer - just over thirty minutes - and comes from the Christmas story Silver Bells, another family tale - and, set at the festive time of year, another one which calls for warm-hearted music, which is exactly what it gets.  The ensemble is very similar to In From the Night- maybe just slightly larger - and on the whole the music is probably just slightly more restrained, not quite so full of the joys of spring (or Christmas).  That said, there's another winning main theme, heard first in "Off to New York", which will bring a smile to anyone's face.  "Shared Stories" introduces another theme, this time far more melancholy, with a hint of longing about it - another winner.  "Christy Searching", with gentle flute solo accompanied by harp and strings is another heartbreaker.  While occasionally there is something more urgent ("Intruder Chase" is great small-scale action music), overall it's unrelentingly gorgeous music.

It's a little unusual sitting in the middle of June (as I am, as I type) listening to music obviously written for Christmas - it makes me want to stick a turkey in the oven (after giving the bird a good stuffing, of course) and lounge around watching television, drinking wine all day.  (Admittedly, apart from eating turkey, that's pretty much all I do anyway, all year round.)  But this really is music which can be enjoyed at any time of the year - heartwarming, directly emotional but certainly not insubstantial, with strong, memorable themes - in short, it's Mark McKenzie doing what he always does.  Only 1,000 copies were made; you'd be mad to miss out.

In From the Night tracks

  1. In From the Night (3:03)
  2. Unconditional Love (:38)
  3. All He Does is Sleep (1:39)
  4. Writer's Friendship (1:05)
  5. Traveling to Ruth's House (1:17)
  6. You've Changed (1:24)
  7. Healthy, Strong, Loving (1:19)
  8. Childhood Poolside Memory (2:26)
  9. What About Sleep? (1:11)
  10. We Are a Family (:59)
  11. Can I Still Come Home? (1:37)
  12. End Credits (1:03)

Silver Bells tracks

  1. Silver Bells (1:38)
  2. Off to New York (2:17)
  3. Shared Stories (2:00)
  4. Danny's Picture Excitement (1:30)
  5. Christy Searching (2:08)
  6. Christmas Loss (2:15)
  7. I Need to Tell You Something (1:30)
  8. Harvest Without Danny (2:13)
  9. Catherine Alone (1:38)
  10. Stardust in the Trees (1:34)
  11. We Want You Back 2 (1:10)
  12. Star Gazing (:44)
  13. I Still Miss My Mom (1:36)
  14. Intruder Chase (1:24)
  15. Power of Prayer (2:35)
  16. Lawrence (1:12)
  17. A Father's Affirmation (1:23)
  18. Finding the Bells (2:12)
  19. End Credits (1:03)