May 30, 2007
Buy at CDJapan
Alrighty, time to write my “Vielen Dank” review!
“Not so fast!”
… an alligator? I got to lay off the cider, then…
“I’m not an alligator, I’m a crocodile! In fact, I’m your conscience. Well, more specifically, your cro-conscience.”
Wow, that makes no sense.
“Oh, I’m sorry, aren’t you the guy who would write anything to get a laugh?”
Touché. Anyway, why did you come to me? Even my conscience wants to read my “Vielen Dank” review?
“No, I mean, yes, I’m here to guide you. I know you’re a huge Hamauzu fan, and since this album would feature both arrangements and new pieces, you were excited. I know that.”
True, and did you know the title of the album means “Thank You” or “Many Thanks” or something to that effect in German? He’s thanking his fans for the support over the years.
“You don’t know German, how could I?”
Let’s get going, shall we? I have more reviews to write and talking to an imaginary crocodile isn’t something I want to do regularly.
“But before we go on, answer me this: what did you think of the album?”
I liked it, there are some nice ideas.
“You didn’t like it. I know you didn’t.”
Yeah, not so much. Some tracks were excellent, but most didn’t click with me.
“Since you’re obsessive-compulsive, let’s be organized here; let’s start with the arrangements.”
First of all, I would have chosen a better tracklist. The SaGa Frontier II compositions chosen, “Zufall,” “Botschaft,” “Interludium” and the “Feldschlacht” theme, are not amongst the album’s strongest or more interesting compositions.
“Write that down. What did you think of the arrangements?”
The arrangement of “Zufall” stands closer to the original than the version from “Piano Pieces ‘SF2’,” which is for four hands and has that weird triplet section. “Botschaft” is fun to listen to until the composition’s theme starts to get on your nerves. Hamauzu does try to shake things up with minimalist, almost contemplative, sections, but sooner than later we’re back to the theme. Actually, both suffer from the “theme overdone syndrome,” but “Zufall” is more interesting in that it’s more varied than “Botschaft.”
“OK, so ‘motif gets annoying overtime,’ put that down too.”
As for “Interludium,” I think neither “Piano Pieces” nor “Vielen Dank” captured the whimsical, playful nature of the original. The former’s doubling of the intro line is playful, but the melody got a bit overshadowed; the latter’s change of tempo to a slower one does hurt the original intention, but the addition of a flute playing the melodic line was good, because that’s the sound the PlayStation composition has.
“True, true. That was what was missing in ‘Piano Pieces’.”
“Feldschlacht V” is a toughie. It has that unique Hamauzu sound I first fell in love with in Unlimited SaGa, but, at the same time, it does nothing for me. I know the theme, I like it, it’s a slower, less obtrusive arrangement than the other “Feldschalcth” variations on the Original Soundtrack, and, weirdly enough, I can listen to it repeatadly, but it does nothing for me.
“‘Good arrangement, great strings + piano combo, something is missing’ then?”
Yeah, something like that. Speaking of Unlimited SaGa, let me talk about the piano solo arrangement of “Soaring Wings,” “Aufsteigende Flügel.” I’m glad Hamauzu didn’t take the easy way out and copied the entire rhythm of the piano accompaniment of the original. The chorus of the song, if I can still call it a song, is the best part of the track, very well done. The weird tremolo at the end there, what was that all about?
“Hamauzu can do better, yeah. But it’s a good arrangement.”
Definitely, but not the best. Now, the arrangement of Final Fantasy X‘s “To the End of Abyss” is phenomenal. It has grown on me, you know that. The piano + strings combo was a surefire hit, and all the track needed was a great live performance like the one “Vielen Dank” features. “Jenseits der Finsternis,” the German trackname, captures the essence of the original in its entirety. It’s my favourite arrangement of them all.
“By the way, are you going to write about your plan to cryogenically freeze yourself for some years and then marry Hamauzu’s daughter just to get close to him?”
I don’t think it’s necessary, no. Maybe some other time. Onto the arrangements from Musashiden II Blademaster. Again, the tracks chosen are not all in the top tier; I would’ve gone with “Aeolic Guardian” and “Gaia Serenade,” at least. Oh well.
“Get on with the comments and stop complaining, sheesh.”
These are comments, sort of. Ok, ok. The original “Symphony of Fire I” was way too hectic, and even though “Feuersinfonie I” is a slower solo piano arrangement of an orchestral score, Hamauzu did a good job; the playfulness is still there, just the texture that was lost. Then again, that was expected. “Symphony of Fire II” was a bit more subdued, but still as enjoyable, and Hamauzu’s arrangement, “Feuersinfonie II,” again for solo piano, respects that, but I think the original flows a bit better because of the ensemble. Again, texture loss was expected.
“‘Texture loss’? Look at Mr. Fancy-Theory-Man! I see you’ve picked some stuff up. See, talking about it helps.”
Yeah, it’s fun. But, you know, they all lose something. “Stummer Dialog,” Hamauzu had no way of replicating the synthy, mystical feel of “Silent Dialogue,” the original. The last 50 seconds or so, which is when the arrangement really gets going, are better than the end of the original, actually.
“Yeah, it’s not a very good thing. Still, the arrangement is somewhat enjoyable, right?”
Yeah, with emphasis on somewhat. At least they’re not almost exact piano reductions of orchestral pieces, like “Aquas Erinnerung” (“Aqua Memory”) and “Ewiges Lied” (“Eternal Sorrow”). The former lost pretty much all its watery charm, while the latter lost almost all of its impact.
“Just like the Dirge of Cerberus arrangements, you think.”
Well, the two tracks chosen, “Forgotten Tears” and “Splinter of Sadness,” aren’t that special; at least the latter has the Lucrecia theme going for it.
“I don’t even cry real tears and I know how bland ‘Forgotten Tears’ is.”
Very bland, as is the arrangement, “Vergessene Tränen.” I know the arrangements’ names are just the original track title in German, but it helps to differentiate one from the other a bit more. The original didn’t have a lot of impact, and neither does the arrangement. As for “Splitter von Traurigkeit,” the arrangement of “Splinter of Sadness,” it’s a bit better than its brethren, but, as is the case with solo piano arrangements of ensemble tunes, some was lost. I don’t get it, why pick tracks that sound pretty on piano instead of pieces that will sound right?
“Because people who know how to analyze music will find some interesting stuff going on, I suppose.”
But not all of Hamauzu’s fans are well-versed in theory; heck, I just pretend I know what I’m talking about.
“Don’t I know it?”
I see, that’s because I like self-depreciating humor. Fantastic. Enough chit-chat, I, or we, I’m not sure anymore, have to comment on Hamauzu’s original compositions.
“Write what you’re thinking: short pieces, with some lacking any drive to go forward.”
I will, but there are some other stylistic comments I have to make. Like, for instance, “Kleine Teestunde” sounds straight out of SaGa Frontier II; in fact, the rhythm is almost that of “Außenwelt,” and the feeling I get listen to it is the same one I got when I first listened to that soundtrack. And it’s just not that composition: the beginning of “Wäldchen” made me believe it headed for the same direction as the game’s battle theme; the heavy, staccato chords in the beginning of “Die Alte Hausmauer” also gave me the impression of early Hamauzu works.
“Funny how that is, huh?”
Not so much, but OK. What is funny is how latter tracks reminded me of Unlimited SaGa and Dirge of Cerberus. Don’t let the playful beginning “Eisblauer Himmel” trick you, because once the strings kick in, you get the refined, atmospheric Hamauzu. “Die Wahrheit” could easily be a battle theme and it’s my favourite original composition. There’s an interplay between my favourite instrumental duo, violin and piano, where bits and pieces of the melody get switched around flawlessly. I easily imagine the theme being part of the Unlimited SaGa soundtrack. It’s very good.
“And the rest, let me guess, didn’t interest you a lot.”
Nope. They didn’t hold my attention. If, say, “Jenseits der Finsternis” was playing, I would bob my head accompaining the rhythm, going “dum dum dum” with the theme and everything.
“All the other consciences make fun of me because of that, y’know…”
What other consciences?
“Shoot, I wasn’t supposed to tell you that, but you’re one step away from complete schizophrenia. It’s absolute crazy in here.”
Huh. Look at that.
“Type up the final words and let’s be done with it, shall we?”
Debussy, Ravel and other Impressionists such as… as…
“Here we go.”
Fine. “Vielen Dank” is a good, fun album. Perhaps those who are in the know of classical theory will enjoy analyzing each piece, but plain listeners are probably going to end sticking to a handful of tracks for their aural pleasure. Arrangements like Final Fantasy X‘s “Jenseits der Finsternis” and original compositions like “Die Wahrheit” are excellent examples of Hamauzu’s striking talent.
“Where are all the criticisms?”
… However, the strange choice of tracks to arrange, resulting in, sometimes, mere piano reductions, is a blow to the overall enjoyment of the album. Those who were expecting a masterpiece will be disappointed, but “Vielen Dank” is a good album, nonetheless.
“Why, hello there…”
A… dolphin? Uh oh.
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on August 1, 2012 by Eduardo Friedman. Last modified on January 16, 2016.