Little seen in the UK, The Lost Child is an American made-for-TV Hallmark movie starring Mercedes Ruehl as a woman named Rebecca who discovers her Native American heritage. In the wake of her adoptive parents' deaths, Rebecca is contacted by a Navajo woman, soon discovering that she is her sister. Despite the presence of Oscar-winner Ruehl (she won for Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King), the film is nowadays likely to get more attention (from film score fans at least) for its lovely orchestral score from Mark McKenzie, newly released by Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions.
Besides being a composer in his own right, McKenzie has long been established as an orchestrator for the likes of Danny Elfman, John Barry and Alan Silvestri, and the influence of so many veterans shines through in his own compositional writing. It's hard to imagine that the years of embellishing acclaimed scores such as Dances with Wolves, Good Will Hunting and Stuart Little haven't rubbed off on McKenzie as a composer. Such years of experience mean there's a real sensitivity and professionalism in his music that's a joy to behold.
If one word can describe the score for The Lost Child, it's 'optimistic'. Another would be 'tender'. There's nary a dark corner in the whole score, so while it's not as varied or dynamic a listening experience as McKenzie's recent work The Great Miracle, it more than makes up for that in low key charm. The influence of John Barry hangs over the score, not only in its lush sense of string-led romanticism but also in the way that the score pays only the subtlest of concessions to the Native American trappings of the story.
Like Barry, McKenzie realises that emotion is universal and there's no need to labour the ethnicity when he can instead score the underlying feelings of the characters (the same approach informed Barry's Oscar-winning Out of Africa). Many of the tracks on the album are comprised of the same orchestral make-up: soft oboes gliding over a bed of warm strings; occasional input from a warm acoustic guitar or few bars of piano; understated brass work holding it all together. What makes the score a pleasure to listen to is the way McKenzie subtly tweaks the emotions in every track, gliding from melancholy to tender uplift and back with graceful skill.
The score is anchored by a beautiful theme, first introduced on piano and gentle strings in the opening Suite and then re-instated in Main Title. The music carries an irresistibly romantic air along the lines of Barry's theme for Indecent Proposal and comparison can also be drawn with the more tender works of James Horner or Marc Shaiman. Although the make-up of the music is hardly radical, the honesty with which it conveys its intentions is entirely admirable. By grounding his score in this central idea, McKenzie gives the music a sense of structure, and prevents it from becoming anonymous. The central theme is afforded several noteworthy renditions throughout the score, from the graceful strings in "Kinaalda Celebration" to the intimate piano in "A Lost Bird is Found".
Several moments of acoustic guitar-led warmth are very welcome for adding further texture to the music, even if the application of the instrument is generally understated. The guitar's first appearance comes "Aunt May's Wisdom", where it leads into a haunting flute/string wash, and re-appears with homely charm in "This Land Reminds us to Praise Our God". Just prior to that is one of the few concessions to ethnic sound: a wood flute in the track "Weaving Vision".
Pleasingly, the harp is also placed at the forefront of the orchestra on several occasions, lending a sense of undulating emotion to proceedings: "A Hug and a New Home" is an excellent example. Also in the same track is a lovely injection of a resonant cello, always effective in adding depth to a familiar orchestral ensemble. However, it's only at the end of the score that a real change in momentum comes: "The Horse" is a slice of bold, John Williams-style expressionism, chopping strings and surging brass, unsurprisingly, evoking a sense of galloping movement.
Another interesting track is the pared-down "Becks Finds the Strength of Purpose", one which places emphasis on an intimate duet between guitar and harp. This latter track gives way to another beautifully expressive passage featuring cello and piano before the highly emotional, forthright statement of the main theme closes the score in "Dancing Transformation". The "End Credits" then round the score off on a satisfying, understated note.
Mark McKenzie's inherent subtlety and skill as a composer has clearly been honed from years of working with some of the greatest names in film music. It's a delight to report that years of collaboration have led to McKenzie developing his own, distinctive musical voice: warm, graceful and sincere. The Lost Child does nothing to buck the trend and is brilliantly performed by The Northwest Sinfonia. Hallmark Hall of Productions deserve just as much credit for respecting the fans and re-releasing McKenzie's music: without the hard work of such companies, great film music such as this risks passing by unnoticed. Ultimately, The Lost Child is a must for any fan of lyrical, attractive film music.