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Fleeting Symphony is a recording of an orchestral concert featuring music from Final Fantasy X, originally performed by the WDR Funkhausorchester with pianist Benyamin Nuss in 2016. The album covers tracks by all three original composers from the game: Nobuo Uematsu, Masashi Hamauzu, and Junya Nakano, and the arrangements are handled here by Hamauzu himself with Tsutomu Narita. The album does not include the encores from the concert, though they are ultimately inessential to the album. The arrangements are largely faithful to the originals, though many also draw from the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections that were arranged by Hamauzu, making for a definitive version of many of the tracks.
The album begins with the iconic “To Zanarkand”, which has a straightforward arrangement and is as moving and beautiful as ever. This version lacks the new countermelody of the Distant Worlds version but is more focused in building to a single climax, and has other minor textural additions. The album then moves to lighter moments in the short medley of “Tidus’s Theme – Yuna’s Theme”. The former is at first quite faithful to the original but with piano emphasis, giving it a lovely gentleness. Other instruments join to fill out the arrangement with some contrapuntal additions, but then they strip away for the piano to this time shift to the Piano Collections arrangement, which also includes a shift to 3/4 meter. This gives this second half more urgency and passion, especially as the orchestra rejoins, though it is all anchored in Nuss’ performance. The track then moves to “Yuna’s Theme”, which sounds especially lovely with the piano focus and orchestral colours; the synthesized instruments of the original always felt a bit too harsh, and I was disappointed that the HD Remaster did not significantly change that. But here I finally have a version of the theme that I can wholeheartedly enjoy. I also appreciate the interpolation of a “To Zanarkand” variation towards the end. Rounding out the opening to the album is “Peril”, a short battle track that hews too closely to the original to be notable, but it is brief and offers a change of pace.
From there the programme moves to “The Splendid Performance”, which again is close to the original but here is a huge improvement over the original synth orchestra. It’s nice to finally hear real strings in the back, though I would have liked to hear a more drastic change given the track length. “Guadosalam” uses the Piano Collections version as the basis, which was a very interesting interpretation and departure from the original track. Hamauzu uses this chance to create a middle ground as the orchestra brings in the familiar colours of the original track, and the result is a magical and atmospheric little piece. The track then shifts into “Seymour’s Theme”, another safe arrangement, but its placement here highlights the appropriate textural similarities to “Guadosalam”. Then there is “Yuna’s Decision”, again built from the Piano Collections version. The extra flourishes that come from the Piano Collections arrangement give the track more dynamism, elevating what otherwise might have been a pleasant but nondescript track.
The back half begins with “The Wedding – Assault”. The former changes little from the original, while the latter again takes the approach of marrying the original to the Piano Collections version with strong results. I might have wanted the orchestra to be a bit more present to match the heavier atmosphere of the opening, but I also appreciate the way orchestral lines at times dance around the piano base. “Suteki Da Ne” is here a piano solo, mostly taking after the Piano Collections version with some minor revisions, such as taking the arrangement up an octave towards the end that changes the watery arrangement to a more twinkling one. Then there is “Servants of the Mountain”, which also builds on the Piano Collections version but doesn’t make too many attempts to approach the original version. Instead of the sombre beat and the mourning cello at the fore of the original, the orchestra here mostly backs up the piano to give it a more delicate feel, though the emotion is still very much present as it builds to its climax.
A short reminder of “To Zanarkand” takes us into the final segment of the album, and leads into “Hymn of the Faith”. Although this too is built from the Piano Collections arrangement, the orchestra handles much more of the material at first. This gives it a very different feel from both the Piano Collections and original soundtrack versions, and the varieties of textures in the orchestra are enough to sustain the track over its length. A thicker harmonization of a strings version of the “Hymn” introduces “Final Battle”, another that brings together the Piano Collections version and the original. The orchestra gives it a cleaner sound than the original soundtrack versions, and having piano at the centre at all times gives the arrangement a more urgent feel than the Final Symphony rendition. It’s another track that sounds like how I wished the HD Remaster turned out. Closing out the album is “Ending Theme”, which is mostly like the original with tweaked orchestration and more prominence for the piano in the later half. A lovely little update on an emotional closer.
Fleeting Symphony is a wonderful orchestral album of beloved Final Fantasy X music that feels long overdue. Although there is no drastic re-imaging of the tracks, many of the arrangements are improvements over the originals and even the HD Remaster tracks, and the use of the Piano Collections versions makes for a more unified sound than the original soundtrack had. Although I might have liked to see a bit more innovation at work, perhaps in the ways the themes interacted with each other, the arrangements here still sound fresh enough, and I also appreciate that the programme is a summation of the game’s key narrative and musical moments. Fans should definitely check out this beautiful orchestral revisit to the musical world of Spira.
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Posted on September 25, 2023 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on September 25, 2023.