The substantial array of early Ys soundtracks can generally be easily categorized - the Music from Ys original sound versions, the Renewal re-synths, the Symphony Ys orchestral albums and the Perfect Collection arranged series. Ys Dramatic Concert, however, falls under none of those categories and may have slipped under some fan's radars. Only recently did I discover it myself and I'm glad I finally did. Despite its relative obscurity, Ys Dramatic Concert is one of the best arranged albums available for the original Ys.
The music in Ys Dramatic Concert consists of three performance styles - piano quintet (piano, viola, cello and violins), full orchestral (by the "Ys Symphonic Orchestra") and rock. None of these are recorded live in concert as the title would suggest. Rather they're all studio productions, mixed freely together under the concept of creating a single "Dramatic Concert" of Ys music.
The orchestral and piano quintet arrangements fit perfectly together and indeed do create a dramatic selection of music. As arranger Michio Fujisawa states in the liner notes, these arrangements have a strong classical influence. However, rather than drastically altering the Ys themes themselves, Fujisawa mostly leaves them close to their original states, while interlacing his own originally composed, classically inspired segments among them. This approach is clear from the album opener "Ys", which begins with a heavy, foreboding intro clearly based on Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries", before moving on to orchestral renditions of "Feena" and other Ys themes. Additional classical influences attributed in the liner notes include Dvorak, Mozart and Mahler.
I wouldn't say any of the orchestral arrangements of staple Ys themes in Dramatic Concert are their definitive versions, but they're unique enough that even the ones that have been arranged many times before sound fresh. Massive opening salvos for "The Last Moment of the Dark" in "Dark Fact" and "First Step Towards Wars" in "Adol Christin" establish those arrangements strongly from the outset, while the ominous main melody of the first and the uplifting chorus of the second remain as thrilling as ever. The somber arrangement of "The Morning Grow" in "Ys Requiem" is completely different from the sugary original, "Remembering Feena" offers the most substantial arrangement available of the pretty "Rest in Peace" theme, and even the venerable "Feena" theme itself manages to sound somewhat new, thanks to a solitary piano arrangement.
The performance in the full orchestral pieces isn't the most refined you'll hear, but as a channel for Fujisawa's distinctive arrangements it gets the job done. The brass has the same sharp sound as in Symphony Ys, and though it becomes abrasive in the "Battle Field" arrangement for "Tower of the Shadow of Death", in other tracks the effect is thankfully not so extreme.
Complementing the orchestral arrangements of staple Ys themes are several prominent new themes I've not heard in any other Ys album, found mostly in the piano quintet pieces. Fujisawa makes several references to the Ys anime series in the liner notes, so perhaps they come from that. In any case, these new themes very much deserve a place next to their more established counterparts in the series canon. "Goban's Theme" has a classical sound similar to Fujisawa's Perfect Collection "new age" arrangements, but a rising, uplifting string climax makes it far more engaging. "The Mineans" leaves an even stronger impression, thanks to a perfect piano and string arrangement of its slightly tragic theme.
Rounding out the arrangements in Dramatic Concert are six short instrumental rock pieces. These are neither trademark Falcom "power rock" nor the hard rock common in other series. I'd liken them to early '80s pop-rock, and prefer to just disregard them altogether. Original compositions like "From Minea Village" don't have the melodic focus expected of Ys music, and even the better arrangements, like the moderately edgy version of "Beat of the Terror" in "Battle Battle Battle", contrast too starkly and compare too poorly to the orchestral tracks surrounding them. (I've re-tagged my own rip of the CD to relegate the rock tracks to the end, and it's been a much more enjoyable experience since.)
Mediocre rock arrangements aside, Ys Dramatic Concert is one of the better Ys arranged albums available, with classic Ys themes and excellent original compositions at the core of consistently unique arrangements. Symphony Ys '95 remains the essential orchestral album for the original Ys games, but Ys Dramatic Concert joins the original Symphony Ys as a worthy compliment.