Symphonic Memories Concert – music from SQUARE ENIX
Symphonic Memories Concert – music from SQUARE ENIX
Square Enix Music
September 24, 2020
Buy at iTunes
Symphonic Memories Concert – music from Square Enix is the latest album of orchestral arrangements from the Merregnon Studios, who has given us excellent concerts and albums like Symphonic Fantasies and Final Symphony in the past. As with those albums, the main features here are the lengthier arrangements, about 15 to 20 minutes long, often employing structures and techniques from classical music. This album features a recording on Culttz Kawasaki concert hall in December of 2019 of brand-new arrangements in addition to two others that have been performed at other concerts but not released commercially. Although the album was previously only available physically as part of Tokyo Game Show 2020 and through the Square-Enix Store, it has just received a wider digital release.
The album begins with “Opening Fanfare”, an original piece composed by Nobuo Uematsu that first appeared in the Symphonic Odysseys programme as its opening. The performance here is not significantly different from the older recording, but it still serves as an appropriate start to the concert with its rousing atmosphere of adventure. The album then moves into its first suite, “FINAL FANTASY XV (In the Shadow of the Crystal)” arranged by Jonne Valtonen. This is perhaps the closest to a traditional medley that the album offers, keeping each segment distinct and recognizable, covering staples from Yoko Shimomura’s contributions to the score like “Omnis Lacrima”, “Stand Your Ground”, “Luna”, and others. There are no vocals at all in the suite, but this is not a huge issue. Highlights include the lively orchestration of “Wanderlust”, which is the biggest departure from its original, and the various permutations of the “Prelude” that tie the whole suite together. Some sections are less successful, like the battle section of “Stand Your Ground” whose lurching rhythm is awkward here, and the ending “Somnus” section which is too long without doing much new or interesting. It’s still overall an enjoyable suite, but it is one of the simpler ones from team.
The second suite is a three-movement Concerto for Violin and Orchestra for Yasunori Nishiki’s Octopath Traveler, arranged again by Valtonen. The choice of violin as the solost is a great one, as the instrument easily captures the graceful, the delicate, as well as the frenetic aspects of the original soundtrack. The arrangement also provides plenty of virtuosic moments for the instrument, drawing stylistic influence from early 20th century concertos. Each movement has a strong identity thanks to its focus on one or two themes, allowing for plenty of development and variation. The first movement starts strong with the main theme, and then wonderfully develops Primrose’s theme from its quiet beginnings to a passionate dance and then to a dark and dramatic climax. The second movement is a gorgeous trip to “The Frostlands”, which really shines thanks to the emotional performance of the melodies and the evocative and atmospheric accompaniment from the orchestra. The final movement with “Decisive Battle II” is energetic and explosive, and the strong melodic character of the original soundtrack also really shines here through the violin soloist. Overall, although there are some notable track omissions, the tracks chosen are ones that translate well to violin and orchestra, and the concerto format really elevates the material. This segment closes off with a beautiful and tender solo violin rendition of the main theme, though it still has plenty flourishes and is no less substantial than the longer album tracks. It’s also a welcome change of pace in the program.
The second half of the concert begins with “Mono no Aware” for Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VIII score, an arrangement by Roger Wanamo originally from the Final Symphony II program, which has not yet been released as a recording. This suite is in one movement, but makes heavy use of “Liberi Fatali”, “The Oath”, “Ami”, “Eyes on Me”, and “Succession of Witches” as intertwining motifs to tie the whole arrangement together. Although it isn’t as thoroughly narrative as Wanamo’s earlier Final Fantasy VI arrangement, there are still faithfully painted scenes in sections like “Waltz for the Moon” and “The Landing”. There is also significance to how the motifs interplay or are transformed, as for example in the appropriately awkward combination of the “The Oath”, “Ami”, and “Eyes on Me” motifs leading into the waltz, as well as their exceptionally beautiful, harmonious, and cathartic resolution at the end of the suite, with the notable reharmonization of “The Oath”. The suite also has a great balance between the full orchestra and smaller ensembles, moving back and forth between epic scenes and intimate moments. “Succession of Witches” is developed especially well, going through a surprising range of emotions. The only weakness to this suite is the frequent extreme shifts in tone (eg. the “Waltz” being interrupted by “Liberi Fatali”) which hurts the flow a bit. More than the others, this one benefits most from repeated listens to catch all of the motifs’ appearances.
The final suite is Andreas Hedlund’s arrangement for Yasunori Mitsuda’s Xenogears score, titled “Slayer of God”. It is Hedlund’s first long arrangement for Merregnon, and he does admirably. While it is more medley-like, this suite feels the most like a single, unified work. This is partly due to the careful track selection, but it is bolstered by consistent orchestral colours (lots of sweeping strings and fluttering woodwinds, while toning down the brass usage), and incredibly smooth transitions between tracks; I’m especially impressed by how cleanly Hedlund uses underlying tension and then escalation to transition from the slower tracks to the battle tracks. This all helps it to feel the most like a narrative journey in a clear setting, with the beautiful and magical opening of “Faraway Promise” on celesta setting the tone for the whole suite. Highlights here include the enchanting mashup of “Bonds of Sea and Fire” with “Shevat, the Wind is Calling”, the emotional “October Mermaid”, and the steady buildup of “One Who Bares Fangs at God”. Hedlund also does great at not simply retreading the arrangements from the orchestral album Myth. The album ends on an encore track for Xenogears, “Soaring the Skies” arranged by Roger Wanamo. This track is a faithful rendition of the original, though a bit fuller and more bombastic than both the original and the Myth arrangement, and allows the album to end on a lighter note.
Symphonic Memories Concert – music from Square Enix is another wonderful addition to the catalog of Merregnon Studios, and is a reminder that no one else is doing anything so sophisticated in the realm of video game music. Each arrangement takes highlights of an already wonderful original soundtrack and condenses it into compact and dense listening experience. The songs are elevated not only by being performed by a full orchestra, but also by the way the themes interact and transform, becoming newly moving and exciting, especially for listeners that are more familiar with the original scores. Even the crisp sound is a step above many other video game concert recordings. It is a worthwhile purchase and highly recommended for anyone interested in orchestral game music. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we get another follow-up.
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Posted on October 6, 2021 by Tien Hoang. Last modified on August 4, 2023.