May 1, 2014
Buy at Bandcamp
In a follow-up to his Grammy-nominated score for Journey, composer Austin Wintory has released Transfiguration, a short piano solo album containing arrangements of the more memorable pieces from the sublime orchestral soundtrack. The sheet music for the album had previously been released, with all the arrangements (which are aimed at an intermediate difficulty level) done by the talented and passionate Laura ‘Flute Link’ Intravia. For the album the pieces are played by famed concert pianist Robert Thies, and Intravia returns to provide new vocals for “I Was Born For This”. While the piano album isn’t quite as captivating or complete as the original soundtrack, it still offers an interesting take on the source material with a distinctly different sound.
The opening track “Nascence” immediately highlights the difference between piano and string instruments. While the original opening track has the cello mournfully wringing out each note, the piano version seems at first like a feeble imitation as the notes appear and quickly fade into the empty air. As the arrangement moves on it’s clear that these are largely transcriptive arrangements, not doing much more elaboration on the themes (though to be fair the original soundtrack was already mostly an extensive elaboration on a few themes). While it is a bit disappointing that fresher interpretations were not taken, as the chords begin to build on “Nascence” it seems that the mere translation of the original pieces to solo piano is a fresh interpretation in itself. Each note has more force in its impact before echoing out, and the chords are more distinctly heard than in the original score. If the original soundtrack could be compared to wind, at times still and at others sweeping with its strings, then the piano arrangements are more like rain, which here in “Nascence” is just a few drops but later on in the album a downpour.
The water texture is expertly handled by Robert Thies who gives each track an emotional performance and makes sure that each note is felt. “Nascence” starts off with those feeble drops of rain, but soon heavier drops come down with strong arpeggiated chords, almost in slow motion ringing out for full impact. The later track “Final Confluence” dramatically returns to this fundamental theme and is even more evocative of the water imagery with impressionistic influences. It even brings an impressively full sound with notes trickling all throughout the spectrum of the piano at its peak.
Despite this wonderful shift in texture, the bulk of the arrangements don’t quite have enough going on in them. “Threshold” brings up the arrangement complexity considerably, and Thies carefully balances between the legato and staccato lines of the piece, while also highlighting the melodies above the accompaniment. It later falters because the arrangement is too subdued over its longer running time of 7 minutes, and could have used more dynamics and a fuller sound when it gets moving. The faster-paced “Road of Trials” brings up the energy with an electric performance of quick staccato at the start but it again tapers off into more of the quieter segments heard before. Even the original epic soundtrack highlight “Apotheosis” feels a bit empty at times here, despite moving along at a good pace. The passion is there in the playing of these pieces, but the impact is not quite there because of the sparseness of the arrangements and the subdued dynamics. An increase in difficulty and complexity would certainly have elevated these arrangements and helped them to do justice. It is a shame that relatively simple arrangements were used as it seems like a misuse of Thies who is more than capable of standing up to more formidable pieces.
The final track “I Was Born For This” brings back Laura Intravia to provide new vocals accompanied by the piano. Intravia is not quite as ethereal as the original singer, but she does bring a much more intimate feel that is appropriate for the accompaniment, and she does great in both the quieter moments as well as those when she soars overhead. The piano arrangement isn’t too special here, but that isn’t the draw of this track. Intravia’s performance is more than enough to draw the listener in here, and the sensitive piano playing is a good support.
Overall Transfiguration is perfectly serviceable but a bit disappointing given the strength of the original soundtrack. It is a shame that the arrangements were tied down to the previously released book which kept arrangements easier to be accessible to more people. Given the people involved, it would have been much better to have new or at least updated arrangements to really do some of the tracks more justice. Still, the album is more than listenable, bringing a whole new texture to the familiar themes despite being largely transcriptive. Austin Wintory’s themes are as beautiful as they ever were, and Robert Thies plays them emotionally and with attention to detail.
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Posted on October 12, 2014 by Christopher Huynh. Last modified on October 12, 2014.