The Distant World albums (and my one experience with the concerts as well) have been a mixed lot. Virtually all of them have something exciting to offer Final Fantasy music fans, yet they're also regularly plagued by a few poorly conceived arrangements that fall far short of a series held in such high esteem. This offshoot concert album A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy follows that tradition, both for better and worse.
Listen to tracks 10 through 16 and you'll hear a beautiful new Final Fantasy orchestral album true to its "intimate music" monicker. A string quartet plays FFVIII "Fragments of Memories", solo guitar and violin perform a perfect adaptation of FFIV "Troia", and with the addition of woodwinds, the full ensemble create a version of FFI "Town" so beautiful it might bring a tear to your eye.
Joining the small ensemble pieces are a few solo piano performances by Benyamin Nuss. The piano version of FFVII "Those Who Fight" may be played out by now, but FFXI "Gustaberg" and FFXII "Eruyt Village" are a huge boon to the album. Nuss's patient, intricate performances bring out the quiet beauty of both pieces and fit the album's theme perfectly. The arrangement of "Eruyt Village" is actually taken directly from Final Fantasy XII Piano Collections, but Nuss's performance adds so much emotion to the piece it's very much worth having here.
Jump back to the first half of the album and you'll wonder what on Earth the producers were thinking with these arrangements, the most dubious example being the album opener "One-Winged Angel". Apart from the fact that the piece itself completely flies in the face of the "intimate music" theme, it would take a truly creative arrangement and virtuosic performance for a small ensemble version to work, and this recording has neither. They simply throw every part of the ensemble at the wall with the hope that something will stick.
The rest of the first half of the album alternates between similarly poorly conceived battle theme adaptations, and relatively boring themes (by Final Fantasy standards) with boring arrangements to match. Even the album closer FFX "Zanarkand" is disappointing, due to an awkward arrangement and what sounds like a mediocre performance.
A New World might be the first Final Fantasy orchestral album that I would recommend only to devoted fans of the series, simply out of fear that the shoddy production values in some of these tracks would scare newcomers away from a series that has so much to offer. But as disappointing as several tracks are, there are a good half a dozen that are equally beautiful, and which any Final Fantasy fan would be loathe to be without. I'd suggest streaming the album (it's on Bandcamp and Spotify) and buying those standout tracks individually, as much out of principle as to save a buck.