Masashi Hamauzu Music Works: Pianoschlacht Live
Masashi Hamauzu Music Works: Pianoschlacht Live
March 18, 2015
Buy at Official Site
Masashi Hamauzu has been hitting the music scene with various projects in recent years. After his departure with Square Enix, Hamauzu focused on honing his craft in a more unique way by getting into the concert halls and working through other live venues. Since collaborating with pianist Benyamin Nuss for his Piano Solo Works album as well as his chamber album Opus 4, Hamauzu-san has created a new concert titled Pianoschlacht and the resulting album Pianoschlacht Live. The album features many pieces from previous albums including the critically acclaimed Etude, Paulette’s Chair, Atmosphäre, and a few new compositions and arrangements to keep things interesting. Did this album deliver and does it warrant a purchase even if you own Etude?
First on the album is the wonderful Etude Op. 4. This is a lovely collection of piano solo works brilliantly played by Benyamin Nuss. The live setting and the acoustics of Tomo Hall gives the music room to breathe and sheds new light in retrospect to the studio recording of Etude. Each piece in this etude comes with its own style and theme rather than a singular theme to tie them all together making this a very special listen. What is particularly interesting is that I am finding new aspects of the Etude because of the different atmosphere in which the music is played. Nuss adds slight differences in places such as playing certain passages slower to a more lush effect or perhaps adding more accents to notes that were otherwise just meant to blend in.
Once the etude concludes, we are treated to the piano solo arrangements of the music from the short animation film Paulette’s Chair. I really wish that these were the versions with violin and cello, but still the piano solo versions are still beautiful and whimsical. I love how the story really comes to life in the music from the animation in which these compositions are based. The melodies are quite endearing.
Another selection from the Opus 4 album is presented in the form of Atmosphäre Op. 1. This collection of three pieces for violin and piano are strong compositions. I find that this performance as opposed to the studio version is softer and more serene. I actually prefer Lisa Schumann’s performance more as she has a brighter and lighter touch offering a more varied and dynamic performance here. The next selection, M82, is a new composition from Hamauzu’s Project α Clock series. This goes back to his Debussy influences with a beautiful, water-like sound in both the piano and violin. The emotion that pours from this sends chills down my spine as the violin plays this lush melody along with the light runs and warm and gentle chords in the piano accompaniment.
Frenzy under Pressure is another familiar selection from Opus 4 and sounds surprisingly clearer than its studio version. The performers add more emotion this time around giving this a different perspective instead of the more subdued performance from previous renditions. I love the exchanges between the violin and cello in both melody and countermelody as they flow so well together. Impromptu Furioso follows suit and still remains a favorite of mine since its debut from Opus 4. The harmonies and progressions right down to having a nice balance between aggressive and bright textures this composition encompasses quite a few emotions in one. Although not as clear and crisp as the studio version the acoustic setting of being in Tomo Hall allows some breathing room for the music giving it a bigger sound than before.
Giant is probably my absolute favorite composition from Hamauzu’s music from his group Imeruat. This version just sounds superior to the original in every way as it is exposed to its bare elements in an arrangement that features violin, cello, and piano. It soars high in its emotion and flies along its melodies, harmonies, and progressions. The performance is the best it has ever been for this composition.
Moving forward, the next composition really does not need an introduction as it is probably one of Hamauzu’s most well-known compositions: Blinded by Light from Final Fantasy XIII. This is a more expanded version of the arrangement heard in the Final Fantasy XIII Piano Collection. However, do not let that dissuade you from listening. Not only does this arrangement feature piano, violin, and cello but it has completely new sections along with some fine touches to not only give it the appearance of a brand new arrangement but also be a completely new experience in its own right. As a fan of including other themes to create a story, Hamauzu catered to this need by adding a little bit of the Final Fantasy XIII Main Theme as well.
Elf is a short composition that actually was not written by Hamauzu, but instead by his daughter Ayane. I love this version as it possesses a more light-hearted sound than the studio recording on Opus 4. I would like to see more music composed by Ayane Hamauzu in the future as her style sounds so much like her teacher and father. Nocturne from Legend of Legacy is a new composition from Hamauzu’s latest game soundtrack and is a return to form. I am completely moved by this composition as the soft beginning prepares us for the gradual swelling of emotion until it finally peaks gracefully and gently brings us back down to end like it began. I love the tenderness in the melody and the simplicity in its chord structure. Since I also have the sheet music, I performed Nocturne for a couple of events and it was not only a blast to perform but it was well received.
After such a brilliantly tender composition, we are given a completely different sound in the form of Missgestalt from SaGa Frontier II. I cannot begin to express how much of a fan I am of this arrangement which features only Benyamin Nuss at the piano. The aggression, the intricacy, and the power presented here make this the BEST piano arrangement from Hamauzu. The music effortlessly goes from all out aggression to a jazzy interlude in the middle section and then simply builds slowly and relentlessly unleashes a powerhouse of chords and arpeggios in which I still believe Nuss sprouted a third hand somewhere to play it. I like the slight ritardando at upon the reprisal of the main melody and then gradually speeding up in tempo as the piece comes to an epic close. This was something that was added for this performance and I like that better than an all out race to the finish.
This would not be a concert album without encore performances, would it? Well to meet this need, Hamauzu provides not one, but two encore works. The first is from Project α Clock and is simply titled M90. This is a very subdued composition featuring just the piano and although doesn’t have a stand out theme, it manages to create a nice, quiet sound. After Missgestalt it provides a nice respite. The second encore selection and the final composition on the album is titled “Ichiko – Life Wrapped in Luck”. I love how Hamauzu brought back the violin and cello to accompany the piano for the final performance and the composition is a lighthearted one ending the concert with feelings of friendship and inspiration.
Although many of the compositions contained in this album are featured on the Opus 4 album, there are still reasons to buy this as well. There are enough differences in the performance to shed new light on the familiar repertoire, but also the new offerings, to me, can justify purchasing this album. The venue in which the music is performed gives many of the compositions room to breathe that a studio recording simply cannot do as well as a classical acoustic setting. The virtuosity in the performance of the musicians shines as does the level of detail and creativity brought into the music itself by Masashi Hamauzu. I find that this is a good representation of Hamauzu’s work as a whole and anyone looking to explore or rediscover Hamauzu-san’s music should pick this up through the Monomusik Official Store.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on May 19, 2015 by Josh Barron. Last modified on January 19, 2016.