It goes without saying (although I’m saying it now) that the Symphonic series is probably the best concert production in the world focusing on game music. Not only are they impressive feats of arrangement and orchestral performance, but Thomas Boecker and crew managed to pull off two such shows in 2011: Symphonic Legends focusing on the music of Nintendo and Symphonic Odysseys, a concert dedicated to Nobuo Uematsu, not to mention a repeat production of Symphonic Fantasies in Japan that just took place a couple weeks back.
While it’s unlikely that we’re see Symphonic Legends on CD given Nintendo’s track record with licensing music (a real shame), we do have Symphonic Odysseys courtesy of Dog Ear Records, and it’s just as good if not better than previous Symphonic efforts.
Hit the jump for more.
First, to reiterate what I said above, the recording on this album, like other Symphonic series CD products, is top notch. You’ll think you were there in the concert hall with the crisp, clean sound and thunderous applause. It will definitely sound better to those of you who, like me, tuned in to watch the live stream.
Also in terms of production is the fact that the applause is generally held until the end of each act rather than each segment, which is a good thing as there are far fewer interruptions. I’m not sure if fans simply held their applause during the concert between individual pieces (I highly doubt they were able to contain themselves), but I appreciate not listening to tons of applause on the album. Also, the arrangements here are some of the best in the business, transforming Uematsu’s compositions into classical works that should stand up to history. I have no doubt that some of the arrangements will be heard on classical stations in the coming decades.
Let’s jump into the music, shall we?
The album opens with a fanfare composed by Uematsu himself specifically for the concert. It’s appropriately triumphant and regal, but still retains a playful air which is inherent to his nature.
From there we jump into the massive three-movement “Final Fantasy Concert for Piano and Orchestra.” This opens with the “Grave – Allegro” segment, starting with a highly cinematic and amazing version of the Final Fantasy VI opening sequence, immediately sending chills down my spine. Piano soloist Benyamin Nuss, who performs wonderfully throughout, is even able to sneak in the Final Fantasy main theme into the dark and foreboding movement, which was impressive. The overworld theme from the original Final Fantasy is a major player in this movement, much to my delight as it’s such a whimsical piece of music, and the ascending piano runs are simply beautiful. This moves into the battle scene from Final Fantasy II with a big sound featuring snare and crash cymbals before crescendoing into decisive piano chords.
The second movement, “Adagio Cantabile” opens with a brief “Aerith’s Theme” cameo before focusing on “The Boundless Ocean” from Final Fantasy III, a much underappreciated gem of wondrous splendor. The piano is key to this movement, dancing in between string swells, and reminding me of Koichi Sugiyama’s flight themes at times. It also explores “Aria” from the Final Fantasy VI opera theme (easily the most moving section of the opera). The third movement, “Allegro molto” is a suite of battle themes, featuring fan-favorites “Battle 2” and “Battle With Golbez’s Four Fiends” from Final Fantasy IV, “Clash on the Bridge” from Final Fantasy V, and another underappreciated gem, “The Fierce Battle” from Final Fantasy VI. There are perfect transitions between the various themes, taking on a very mature approach to Uematsu’s iconic battle themes.
From here, the pieces are much shorter, focusing mostly on a few compositions from each title. Uematsu’s early Squaresoft soundtrack for King’s Knight gets a moment in the spotlight with admittedly annoying kazoo before the bombastic yet joyous first stage theme comes in. It’s really fun to hear this music revived from obscurity despite it being a terrible game. The choir also sings in English here, saying, “Such a pretty day!” The Chrono Trigger segment, “Light of Silence,” was a controversial arrangement, relying solely on choir with a hardly discernible melody. The piece has a carol-like quality about it.
“Final Fantasy Legend / Legend II” is one of the highlights of the album with powerful brass opening the piece before moving into the lovely overworld theme. I’ve always loved this soundtrack despite never finishing the game. “Fleeting Dream” from Final Fantasy X, on the other hand, covers the game’s main theme (the melody from “Suteki da ne”) featuring choir. It moves along slowly and is contemplative while equally grand.
The second disc delves into the second half of the concert and more of Uematsu’s more recent worlds. “Spreading Your Wings” from The Last Story starts us off with an immediately catchy melody and a broad, sweeping arrangement with a grandiose fantasy sound. Final Fantasy XIV also gets some love with “On Windy Meadows” which opens with rhythmic percussion before it crescendos into a burst of majestic strings. It explores more dangerous territory with lots of bass and brass before returning to the majestic meadows with added rock-like percussion. Blue Dragon’s “Waterside” is also featured (this seems to be one of Uematsu’s personal favorites) with a cinematic quality and a highly emotive lead violin. While I never particularly connected with this theme, I found the arrangement here to be particularly moving.
Lost Odyssey gets an epic 20-minute suite on this album, exploring moods ranging from adventurous to dangerous. I didn’t play the game, and very few melodies stick out to me, but I must say that I was reminded of a great classical work. My favorite section of the arrangement comes in towards the end with a warm church organ and choir section that is incredibly calming.
The final two tracks are the two encores: the first being the “Ending Theme” from Final Fantasy X and the latter a battle suite from Final Fantasy VII. The former is basically an arrangement of “At Zanarkand,” and is the best arrangement you’ll find. It’s sweet, contemplative, and emotional with some excellent piano work courtesy of Nuss, who again manages to work in the Final Fantasy theme. The battle suite, on the other hand, opens with “Still More Fighting” on solo piano until the orchestra joins in to create an amazing musical experience. This is a pretty ambitious series of themes to tackle, but they manage to pull it off. When the choir and xylophone join in for the chorus section, you’ll probably lose it just like I did. It could easily be a final boss theme like this! There’s a hint of “One-Winged Angel” (with audible laughter from the audience) before the orchestra jumps into “J-E-N-O-V-A” with the “Still More Fighting” rhythm still underneath (a clever way to pull the two together).
I was impressed with the concert upon watching the live stream, but I have to say that I am even more impressed after listening to this album. Being able to listen to and re-experience this concert time and time again is a real treat, and you’ll hear something new each time you listen. All of the arrangements are top notch, and will likely draw your attention to music that you’ve never heard before from one of your favorite composers. I admit I was a bit skeptical when this concert was announced, but consider me a believer.
The booklet contains photos from the concert as well as a piece-by-piece breakdown of arrangers and the individual compositions covered in each (highly appreciated). Again, it’s available courtesy of Dog Ear Records from CD Japan and Play-Asia, and you should probably check it out.
Let us know what you think of the Symphonic series. Which is your favorite, and where does Odysseys fit in with your rankings?Blue Dragon, Chrono Trigger, Dog Ear Records, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy XIV, Lost Odyssey, Nobuo Uematsu, Reviews, Symphonic Odysseys, The Last Story, Thomas Boecker