|Record Label: Neue Meister|
|Catalog No.: N/A|
|Release Date: February 22, 2019|
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Benyamin Nuss is something of a common thread between Square Enix’s most iconic composers and alumni, and if you’ve listened to their work over the past decade, chances are you’ve heard his as well. Mr. Nuss’s performance credits alone – which range from the Kingdom Hearts HD ReMIX soundtracks to Symphonic Odysseys and Distant Worlds concert arrangements – qualify him to cover the classics of the Final Fantasy franchise; and with this latest piano tribute compilation, he sets out to do just that.
Fantasy Worlds serves as an homage to five of the top composers in the Final Fantasy pantheon and their contributions to Square Enix’s long-running JRPG series. Drawing on a combination of these composers’ most recognizable and lesser known works, do Mr. Nuss’s performances reflect the variety and quality of the music collected and honored here?
Five different Final Fantasy composers feature on Fantasy Worlds; and appropriately, Nobuo Uematsu receives top billing, bookending the album. The collection kicks off with Final Fantasy IX’s “Run!” (arr: Bill Dobbins), a calamitous track with crunchy dissonances and wild key changes. The chaos subsequently gives way to the nostalgic sweetness of Final Fantasy IV’s “Theme of Love” (arr: Christian Elsässer), featuring softer intonations and trickling textures. Even these first two tracks showcase Benyamin Nuss’s stellar dynamic control and diverse articulation.
From there, Fantasy Worlds begins in earnest. The album is sequenced in five suites, each beginning with an original tribute to its respective composer’s style.
First up for the honor is Final Fantasy XII’s Hitoshi Sakimoto, for whom Mr. Nuss conjures up a frolicsome and breezy impression that’s both fitting and brief. Sakimoto’s style is particularly intricate and daunting to cover – all the more so in the wake of preexisting arrangements such as the elaborate Piano Collections – Final Fantasy XII rendition of “Eruyt Village”. Yet Mr. Nuss ventures bravely forward, tackling “Eruyt Village” with a straightforward yet seamless impression of the orchestrally lush original (arr: Takana Miyamoto). “Giza Plains” (arr: Bill Dobbins) also undergoes a relatively conventional conversion – albeit at a brisker pace – but the mode swaps and cinematic flourishes remain intact and demonstrate Mr. Nuss’s impressive agility.
Second comes Masayoshi Soken of Final Fantasy XIV fame. The suite’s original opener quells the excitement of the preceding Sakimoto tributes, taking a tranquil, moody and contemplative approach. Yet Mr. Nuss’s “Kugane” cover is quick to liven the album back up, with a groovy left-hand accompaniment and some enthralling low and high register contrast towards the end.
The third suite honors Final Fantasy XV’s Yoko Shimomura. Listeners might not find Shimomura’s trademark romanticism and evocative solos in the gloomy chords of “A Yoko Shimomura”, but Mr. Nuss’s sweeping take on “Somnus” will enchant FFXV fans with a powerful bridge and glorious arpeggiation at the tail end.
Even within these preceding suites, longtime Benyamin Nuss fans may notice more than a passing resemblance to his numerous collaborations with Final Fantasy XIII’s Masashi Hamauzu. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Mr. Nuss’s four-part Hamauzu suite seems closest to the heart of Fantasy Worlds. Following the pensive chord clusters and understated melodies of “A Masashi Hamauzu”, Final Fantasy XIII’s “Dust to Dust” receives a flowing improvisation in a style similar to Mr. Nuss’s “Forgotten Light” performance from The Legend of Legacy. The suite will surprise Final Fantasy XIII-2 fans with its dynamic, waltz-like treatment of “Knight of the Goddess” (arr: Masashi Hamauzu), but even more surprising is that the obscure “Hauyn’s Melody” from World of Final Fantasy makes an appearance at all. The latter, as it turns out, is a highlight, taking the original’s precious melody and gracing it with flowery subdivisions and some of the most effective theme and variation on the album.
The strongest theme and variation on the album, however, comes courtesy of a particular track from Nobuo Uematsu’s suite. After the simple and charming “A Nobuo Uematsu”, Mr. Nuss takes listeners on a nine-minute journey through a variety of “Chocobo Variations” (arr: Bill Dobbins). Reinterpreting Uematsu’s Chocobo theme in new styles and genres is a time-honored tradition among Final Fantasy’s composers; and these variations can stand proudly among the rest, shifting from regal to Satie-esque, from swinging to bluesy, from nocturnal to upbeat, all before sending the theme off with an addictive conclusory ostinato and a wily ascent.
The album concludes with a heartfelt performance of Final Fantasy VIII’s “Eyes On Me” – complete with a snippet of “Drifting” before the arrangement itself gently drifts into silence.
Final Fantasy enjoys numerous piano tributes already, but seldom do they treat the franchise’s repertoire this level of depth and nuance. Fantasy Worlds boasts not only some versatile and masterful performances from Benyamin Nuss, but also a fresh selection of iconic and under appreciated works. The album is well balanced and frequently mesmerizing, providing a rich video game chamber music collection that does justice to Mr. Nuss’s contemporaries and their compositions. Even for those who’ve picked up every piano opera and collection from Final Fantasy I – XV, Fantasy Worlds is an easy recommendation.
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Posted on February 22, 2019 by Reilly Farrell. Last modified on February 23, 2019.