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Adam Corn Sep 21, 2011

Holy ---- this is coming to Japan.

I'll gladly pay to hear the exact same concert as in the album live but how awesome it would be if they added a new encore or even a new suite (give me Sakimoto FFXII and Tactics!).

Adam Corn Mar 20, 2012 (edited Apr 11, 2012)

My review of the Tokyo performance of Symphonic Fantasies from earlier this year.
In short, it was awesome.

On January 7 and 8 the concert "Symphonic Fantasies - Music from Square Enix" made its Tokyo debut, its first performance since the original shows in Germany in 2009.  As a huge fan of the album release of that original concert, which features original symphonic suites arranged from the Final Fantasy, Chrono, Mana and Kingdom Hearts series, it was with great anticipation that I awaited seeing it live in person in Tokyo, and I'm happy to report the show didn't disappoint.  Not only did the performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic rate right up there with the album performance by the WDR Radio Orchestra, there were also some small but substantial changes that made for a more novel live experience.  I've already gone into detail on the overall content of the concert in my review of the album release (which, again, is superb), so here I'll instead focus on the the changes since then and the experience of seeing the show live.

The program itself was the same as the original show, leading with an short introductory fanfare then proceeding to the first of the concert's four suites, based on Kingdom Hearts.  The excellence of this suite completely surprised me in the album; never did I expect to be impressed and moved by a suite from this series.  Coming into the live show I better knew what to expect and the performance fit right in line with those high expectations, with no changes from the album version being noticeable for this particular suite.  It didn't astound me to the same degree in live form as the three suites that would follow - possibly for no other reason than its overall tone being the best suited to private listening - but still it was a delight to hear the interplay between the orchestra and Benyamin Nuss' piano performance live.

The second suite, based on Secret of Mana and its sequel Seiken Densetsu 3, I consider the masterwork of the original concert album and without doubt one of the most amazing orchestral works of any game soundtrack to date.  As one of the most impressive aspects of the suite was its use of naturalistic ambient effects from the orchestra and chorus, I was curious to hear how this would translate live.  The Tokyo performance showed some noticeable changes to these effects as well as to the musical arrangement itself, but these were just enough to add a sense of something new while staying true to the overall arrangement.  The other standout feature of the original recording was the awe-inspiring choral performance by the WDR Radio Choir.  Frankly I had my doubts whether the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus would be able to match it, but to my surprise their performance was every bit as astounding.  When first listening to the Mana suite on album I remember imagining how fantastic it must be to hear live; actually getting that chance ranks close to the Final Fantasy VI Little Jack Orchestra concert as one of the most anticipated and fulfilling live concert moments I've experienced to date.

Though my greatest expectations for the concert were for the Kingdom Hearts and Mana suites of its first half, it was the second half - beginning with the dramatic Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross suite - that really elevated the concert.  Perhaps its many string-dominated segments benefit the most from the live experience, perhaps the performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic was simply that good in that regard - whatever the case the drama and intensity of the Chrono suite was even more palpable live.  The short but significant choral surprise of the suite was also great to see in person, with even some of the orchestra members being visibly excited.  The single significant flaw in the album version, a brief but distracting lag in the backing strings at the climax of Frog's theme, was happily no longer present this time around, and though the very climax of the piece still could have used a bit more energy it in no way obscured the impact of what ended up being the most powerful piece of the show.

Closing the main program was of course the suite for Final Fantasy.  In the album release this was the only suite with which I was disappointed, however the Tokyo performance was a completely different beast.  For starters the chorus again came through in a big way.  While the choral accompaniment for the battle themes in the album version felt pompous and even distracting, there was none of that this time around, instead only that essential sense of drama and raw power.  I'm not sure whether the performance tempo had been bumped up a bit or whether some additions to the arrangement simply made it sound that way (concert producer Thomas Boecker readily acknowledged they'd made some tweaks), but themes that sounded laggard before, like FFVII's "Fighting" and "Bombing Mission" and FFV's "Battle on the Big Bridge", moved with a much-needed added intensity.  Those parts of the suite that did impress in the album release ("Prelude" and "Mystic Forest") remained beautiful live, and combined with the improved battle arrangements made the Final Fantasy suite the nostalgia-inducing grand finale it was intended to be, and a delightful end to the concert program.

Following the end of the main program composers Hiroki Kikuta and Yasunori Mitsuda came on stage to share their impressions from the concert (Yoko Shimomura and Nobuo Uematsu were unable to attend that day), and following that came the closing final boss suite for an encore.  As I had heard this separate download-only release from the previous concerts only briefly before I can't comment in much detail about any changes made for the Tokyo performance.  The one major change I can mention is the the finale of FFVII's "One Winged Angel", which in this latest rendition was interwoven with the theme for another infamous series villain, FFVI's Kefka.  It's a combination I certainly never would have expected, and though the lengthier, more cohesive and more familiar main suites remained the great attraction of the concert, it made for a lively bit of fan service to top the show with.

Coming into the Tokyo performance of Symphonic Fantasies, really anything approaching the album recording would have been enough to have me delighted.  That the performance not only matched the album recording in almost every noticeable aspect but offered something new and in places even improved made the experience that much better.  There's no telling if and when the Symphonic series of game concerts will venture outside of Cologne again  (Symphonic Legends redux or a Symphonic Sega are two concerts I would personally love to see), but if it does ever happen I certainly hope to be there.  In the meantime, fans of orchestral music who have yet to experience Symphonic Fantasies have a superb album awaiting from the original performance.

Adam Corn May 11, 2012

Well this is interesting, they are releasing in Europe a recording of the Tokyo performance as a double-disc set - revised arrangements, encore and all. … /Preorder/

Seeing as how Square Enix seem quite happy with the Symphonic productions and show no signs of slowing down on their CD releases I would guess a Japanese release will be forthcoming as well.  But that's just my guess. smile

I'll be very curious to compare this to the original album release.  If the revised arrangements and new performance sound as good as they did live (especially the Final Fantasy one) this could indeed be even better!

Adam Corn Nov 28, 2014 (edited Feb 2, 2017)

Digital release of Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo goes on sale Monday, December 1.  It's up now for pre-order at Amazon for the extremely reasonable price of $5.94.

If you've yet to get Symphonic Fantasies and you listen to music on MP3 I'd say this is your don't-miss chance.  Even having the original Symphonic Fantasies album, at that price it's worth considering for the much-improved Final Fantasy suite and added encore.

Update: US CD release also now available.

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