3.5 / 5 Stars
For years, Mark McKenzie has been well-represented as an orchestrator for many of the top composers in Hollywood, most notably Danny Elfman and the late Jerry Goldsmith, but recordings of his own work are steadily being made available, even though in limited quantities. One recent example from the Intrada label is Blizzard, a 2003 Christmas-themed release directed by Levar Burton, of Roots and Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, which also garnered several Canadian nominations. The story apparently follows the seasonal adventure of a young ice skater and a magical reindeer and at least boasts the estimable talents of Christopher Plummer as \'Ol Saint Nick himself, all supported by a rich, expressive score by McKenzie. The CD is limited to only 1000 copies and features the usual polish and lavishness expected from Doug Fake and crew at Intrada.
The album opens with the expansive "Blizzard Suite", a piece which received wider recognition during the 75th Annual Academy Awards during its use in a montage sequence. The piece itself opens in an exuberant fashion, with bright, active brass and stings supported by children\'s choir and bells, the main melody twirling upwards in the spirit of flight; then suddenly holds its breath as the oboe presents this main theme in a more contemplative yet heartfelt tone, followed by ethereal moments for choir, harp and flutes. Emotive strings take up the theme from the oboe before trumpets mark a shift back towards the rousing beginning before reaching a final flourish.
The subsequent tracks recapitulate material from this suite and its earnest, welcoming charm, such as the inspirational "Katie Skates for Her Family" and soaring "Flying", the latter of which is buoyed by the children\'s choir. There is also room for a lovely harp and flute solos in "The Best Friend Ever", while "Welcome Blizzard" alternates between percolating pizzicato strings and noble horn statements of the main theme. A brief but memorable is found in "Skate Off" and its winning, woodwind-led light waltz, after which the spirited sections of the suite returns for elaboration in "Air Tag". In regards to the scoring for the skating sequences in the film, a classy, strings and woodwinds, Mozartian approach colors "Erin\'s Program" while "Katie\'s Program" utilizes the full orchestra in bold, sweeping brass and string gestures.
The closing five tracks run the gamut from the encroaching wondrous textures of "Katie Meets Santa" and its strong brass finish to the pulse-pounding excitement of "Rescue", followed by the touching "Another Chance". The "Finale" nicely caps off the score as the oboe revisits the main theme in a tender manner, leading into more gently wondrous choral and harp textures, emotive readings of the melody by flute, high strings and trumpets and a grand crescendo. All in all, this is fine, melodically driven music by McKenzie, uncomplicated but providing just what a family Christmas needs without venturing into saccharine territory.
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