Game Music, Reviews

Young Spirit, Classical Talent: Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu (Review)

October 4, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Young Spirit, Classical Talent: Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu (Review)on Twitter

Benyamin Nuss is a talent to remember. Discovered by Winfried Fechner of the WDR at an early age, he has skyrocketed onto the scene at a rate rarely seen since his debut into the game music world with his performances on Symphonic Shades. As Nuss took his place and amazed the crowd at Symphonic Fantasies, it was the watchful eye of Nobuo Uematsu that would in the end prove life changing. Shortly after that performance work began on compiling source material and ideas for his first CD release, a piano tribute to Uematsu.

Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu was finally released on the September 17th, and it’s safe to say that it is quite an accomplishment for a 20 year old pianist to have the honor of officially honoring someone as legendary as Uematsu. We’ll dive into this release today and see what the results are of the young pianist’s solo debut.

There are several things to note besides the end product itself. Considering the relatively short time this CD has been in production and not to mention Nuss’s limited time to rehearse (said to be 3 months or so in total), you really got an exciting 70 minutes ahead of you. It is a gamble to start out by performing the music of the world’s arguably most respected game composer, but for those who have heard and experienced the performances of Benyamin Nuss before, I think there was little worry to be had. The CD jacket is quite stylish with the man himself posing in front of a psychedelic colored piano. The general layout feels a bit similar to the simultaneously released Symphonic Fantasies CD which makes sense seeing it comes from many of the same minds.

The CD contains 15 tracks with 2 of them being original pieces: “Nobuo’s Theme,” which was composed by Nuss himself, and “Years & Years,” a piece dedicated to Benyamin and composed by none other than Uematsu. Along the tracklist you’ll find games such as Lost Odyssey, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX and Blue Dragon, a good variation of older material blended with newer works. The arranging team for this project is certainly not to be overlooked either with participation from Shiro Hamaguchi, Torsten Rasch and Jonne Valtonen all lending a hand to properly work these songs into classical piano masterpieces. The music from the individual games appear together in groups so the CD flows very naturally thanks to the music not jumping too suddenly in between styles and approaches.

What you get on this album is a collection of very striking and touching melodies. Nuss clearly shows from the early goings of the CD that he is in full control of his intentions with the album, and never loses track of the original source while seamlessly putting some personal touches in to ensure the listeners that he has put a lot of thought and planning into the work done. While some pieces here have been done on piano before, especially from the Final Fantasy series, the new arrangements here offer a much more powerful version than what we have ever been given before. “Terra’s Theme” retains the trademark mystique it is famous for, but with such added emotion from careful playing and expanded ideas. “Where I Belong” is another track that has been done before but on this album it just grows much more touching and Nuss knows exactly how to get the track across emotionally with each note he plays.

Another strong aspect to this CD is the fact that it does use newer material which many people are not so overly familiar with. “A Sign Of Hope” from Lost Odyssey is a piece I was completely unfamiliar with, but after hearing the performance here, was especially taken away with. A soft, delicate and as promised in the title, hope inspiring track that is so well done it opens your eyes to the soundtrack immediately. When it comes to arrangement and tributes I feel that is the highest honor you can give, when you take something unknown to certain listeners and do such a great job that it inspires you to listen to the rest.  This CD had many of these moments.

Not all tracks are tear-inducing or mysterious however. Blue Dragon offers a very playful and youthful approach with plenty of classical touches. Whereas the earlier tracks leading up to Blue Dragon showcases Benyamin’s breathtaking talent, I feel that the material from Blue Dragon reflects him as a person more with the young spirited nature of the melodies yet with quite complicated techniques and times of maturing melodic progression. As I mentioned earlier this album offers a lot of diversity, but never loses touch of its purpose or inspiration.

The two original tracks are probably the best offerings on this CD. Not because the tributes are anything but incredible, but because the message and emotion behind them are so genuine and clearly heard. “Nobuo’s Theme” and “Years and Years” portray not only the immense respect the two gentlemen have for each other, but also the friendly love and admiration. More so than I find myself wanting to go back to hear my videogame favorites on this album, I end up listening to the originals more because there is just a very strong underlying wealth of good feeling and positive aura in the performances of those two individual tracks, and they answer to each other perfectly, despite being composed by separate minds at separate times.

For piano lovers who find themselves often listening to the Final Fantasy Piano Collections or even the more recent Pia-Com, you have here an album that will absolutely amaze you and without a doubt emotionally connect with you on a level many other musicians strive to do throughout entire careers. Benyamin somehow achieves this at such a stunningly young age. It’ll open your eyes to new songs, give your old favorites a wonderful new take and the original tracks will most likely impress you as much as the nostalgic material does. A perfect mix of classic style and modern melodies, it is clear that this is a product of a long time love for game music. It’s a candidate for my game music album of the year.

The CD can be purchased on Amazon for $12 EUR and if you’re lucky enough to be in Germany throughout the fall, you can catch Nuss performing the album live on his tour which will last until November.

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