Across the Worlds – Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collections
Across the Worlds – Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collections
February 4, 2021
Buy at Wayô Records
Across the Worlds – Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collections is a kickstarted piano arrangement project covering Yasunori Mitsuda’s music for Chrono Cross, as a celebration of the game’s 20th anniversary. The project is performed by Benyamin Nuss and features three arrangers: Masashi Hamauzu, Mariam Abounnasr, and Akio Noguchi (the latter two being frequent collaborators with Mitsuda). Spanning two discs and seventeen tracks, the album is more extensive than many other arrangement projects for the game, and features serious talent throughout.
The album unsurprisingly opens with a straightforward arrangement of “Chrono Cross -Scars of Time-”, the iconic opener of the game. What is surprising is how restrained the arrangement is; as it moves from its quiet opening to its exciting second half, one might expect Nuss to be wailing away at the piano with cascades of octaves and runs. But while we do get some nice glissandos in there, the tension of the piece is actually felt more in the careful pedalling amid repeated chords; a refreshing approach to the piece. It’s a true a bit of personality is lost in its translation to the piano, since the articulations that a flute or violin can give the main melody are not available to a piano, but the arrangement is still solid, if predictable. The “Battle Medley” is similarly restrained, here focusing on small cluster chords, which works to give some staccato dissonance to the melody of “Gale”, as well as some needed harmonic colour to the accompaniment in the slower sections. The game isn’t exactly known for its battle themes, which is probably what prompted Hamauzu take a more free approach to his arrangement here. In its own arrangement later on is “Fates -Divine Destiny-” which follows its original more closely, but does so to its detriment as here too the original instruments work better for the melody than the piano does. There are a few quick creative segments that work well, but they’re too fleeting.
More prevalent on the album are location themes. There are two medleys present: one for the “Home World” themes and the other for “Another World”. The “Home World Medley” begins alright but the later energetic parts feel too for the folksy atmosphere they are trying to convey. The “Another World Medley” on the other hand is more warm sedate throughout, which works for the simple melodies, and the themes here just seem to work better on piano. Neither is very remarkable, and I often find myself skipping them. Then there is “Shadow Forest” which strips down the many layers of the piece to almost build a new impressionistic composition from its short, central motif. It’s no longer vaguely exotic or eerie, and instead is meditative. It might not be for everyone, but for fans of Hamauzu, it’s a treat. There is also “Fossil Valley” which is similarly stripped down at first, but then quickly becomes upbeat like the original. The highlight of the arrangement is the midsection of jazzy improvisation, which nicely spruces up a track that I wasn’t originally a big fan of.
A fair number of tracks are more downbeat. While a very faithful arrangement for “The Departed Ones” probably would have been sufficiently effective, the arrangement here starts more delicately and does a gradual buildup to an emotional climax. There are nice moments where the harmonies become more complex, and I wish the arrangement used more of these to elevate it from good to great. With “Chronomantic”, rather than trying to recreate the feeling from the original the arrangement goes for a variety of pianistic styles anchored by the wonderful original melody. Combined with a strong climax, it is one of my favourites from the album. Another favourite of mine is “The Dead Sea -Tower of Geddon-”. Even though it sticks close to its original, it sounds much more mysterious and melancholy on piano, helped by small changes to the harmony, another bout of improvisation, and a sensitive performance from Nuss. “Dragon Prayers” is another that takes an approach more subdued than its original, largely foregoing the looming tension and focusing instead just on the melody. It is perhaps a bit too slow, but the ornamented midsection is lovely. “The Frozen Flame” focuses on the waltz segment of the original track and expands on it to great effect. This approach allows Hamauzu to add more to the harmony without drastic changes. Overall, a solid showing from the moodier tracks.
Last to be discussed are the lyrical pieces that make up the central themes of the original soundtrack. Abounnasr’s arrangements of “Reminisce -Enduring Thoughts-” and “Fleeting Thoughts” are both similar, preserving their melodies and harmony but unfortunately excessively relying on simple broken chords and triplets in the attempt to be expansive. There are nice moments like when the melodies migrate to lower voices, but also a great need for melodic variation, since each melody is repeated three times in their respective arrangements. “The Girl who Stole the Stars” is also straightforward with frequent arpeggiations, but fares better by adding more drama for a powerful and achingly beautiful climax, and I appreciate the reference to “The Dead Sea”. Hamauzu’s arrangement of “Life -A Distant Promise-” is the longest track at over seven minutes and is more adventurous harmonically, with some quotes of “Chronomantic” for colour at the beginning. Hamauzu focuses more on the accompaniment figure from the original and works in many textures throughout, including flashes of what I expect are his vision for a staccato-heavy final boss theme. I would’ve preferred that he simply give this treatment to “Radical Dreamers” since “Life” is basically a simplified version of it, but it’s still a great arrangement. Abounnasr’s “Radical Dreamers -Le Trésor Interdit-” closes the album, and unfortunately the arrangement isn’t as adventurous as the previous one, nor as enchanting as the original, again overly relying on simple broken chords and triplets to give it a dynamic narrative. It’s still ok thanks to the wonderful original melody and Nuss’s emotional performance, but I couldn’t help but wish it were more interesting.
Across the Worlds – Chrono Cross Wayô Piano Collections isn’t the knockout arrangement project I was hoping for, given the score and personnel involved, but I do still enjoy what is presented here. My main criticism is that only a few tracks really show off the team’s strengths. While there is novelty in the extra dramatic progressions that are added to tracks which were originally quiet and gentle, it is too often simple and uncreative techniques that are used to achieve this. But since Mitsuda’s original melodies and harmonies are basically intact, at no point is the album a bad listen, even if it drags during some segments. The staples of the original soundtrack are all covered, so fans should find enough to enjoy here, even if, like me, they feel some disappointment at what could have been.
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Posted on November 26, 2021 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on December 13, 2021.
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