I remember "Grand Finale" was my first CD purchase that took game music and brought the fullness of a live orchestra to it, as such, I remember how excited I was when it finally arrived in the mail. 11 tracks were taken from the OST, given new instrumentations, new melodies, new harmonies and were recorded live, played by the Symphonic Orchestra of Milan. My feelings on this CD are and forever will be mixed. Exciting as it is to hear old favorites from a classic RPG brought to life by a small orchestra, there are some glaring issues that have to be faced.
Primarily, my first problem was the selections on the CD. While I can understand the need for variety for fair representation to the game, some of the most phenomenal themes of Final Fantasy 6 were completely overlooked, and in their stead we have some lackluster choices such as the town music, and "Mystery Train".
The CD begins with the ominous chord swells of the opening theme, brought to new life with the sounds of a full string and brass section and with the added air of intensity of a timpani roll not found in the original OST. As the Opening Theme rises to its climax and completion, the strings come in to begin the staccato background for "Tina". Played on a pan flute, the melody weaves and soars with a solid French horn quartet providing full chordal structure. The gong is a trifle overdone played the chord 1-3-5-1 after every phrase, but altogether the piece is very well done. The new addition to this theme actually worked really well, dark and gloomy yet still maintaining an upbeat tempo before the entire orchestra comes in for the restatement of "Tina" and graceful ending.
"Kefka" has been changed drastically. The original theme is now broken up and played on a trumpet, whole new melodies and a bridge has been added, oddly enough the coda ending has remained the same. I have to admit though I don't really care for the entire piece, it does fit Kefka's persona very well as a "clown gone mad" taking something innocent and child-like and turning it malevolent and playfully cruel.
"The Mystic Forest" is actually dramatically improved from the original OST with flutes and single female voice playing the haunting melody over harp and low woodwind chords. The swells are all done superbly with nice suspensions and orchestral grace. "Gau" remains as my favorite piece on the entire CD, with a string quartet playing the melancholy theme. My only gripe with this piece is that the low strings seem to be woefully out of tune during the second melody.
With such a strong beginning, I knew my luck wouldn't last. Sure enough "Milan de Chocobo" could be heard next. I have to be fair and say that I never cared for this theme, so it stands to reason that the orchestral arrangement is wasted on me. Next up is "Troops March On", the arrangement of the Empire theme from the OST. Played very nicely with loud and proud brass, it falters in the middle with a new melody that doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the piece at all.
"Kids Run Through a City Corner" aka "Town Music" was as boring as the OST. A light, dawdling melody played on an aurally grating violin. "Blackjack" is played almost comically with a "Love Boat" feel on an alto saxophone. Though I was dubious to learn that "Relm" is played with a bagpipe, this instrument actually made the theme unique and the player was talented enough to blend well with an orchestra. The additions to "Relm" were wonderfully orchestrated; strong woodwind layering with variations on the melody brought this piece to be a highlight of the CD. "Mystery Train" is given a new jazz feel with a broken chord piano and violin arrangement. I don't particularly care for this arrangement nor the OST's version. The CD ends with the first orchestral version of Celes' Aria, entitled "Aria Di Mezza Carattere" and sung by soprano Svelta Krasteva. It is enchanting and delightful to hear the arrangement, played with string quartet interludes and complete with original orchestration from the Final Fantasy VI scene.
Though I wish some of the other more prominent and signature pieces could have made this orchestral debut, I am happy with the CD as a whole. Any fan of the game will love to hear old themes played live, and hopefully embrace the additional melodies. It should be easy to find on any video game soundtrack retailer.
Reviewed by: Daniel Space