While Nobuo Uematsu may be enjoying the good life at his own pace, his legacy of contributions to the Final Fantasy franchise continues to grow as a vast library of arrangements and remixes. The awkwardly titled BRA★BRA FINAL FANTASY BRASS de BRAVO 2 again features the Siena Wind Orchestra, who perform 12 more arrangements from the franchise. Shiro Hamaguchi (who arranged the bulk of Distant Worlds) returns with a cast of others to rework some of the more popular, as well as less often touched, melodies from the Final Fantasy library.
The Siena Orchestra, conducted by Yutaka Sado, is a small, energetic mix of woodwind and brass musicians that expertly handle delicate, airy melodies adjacent to toe-tapping orchestra hits with all horns blaring. Their expertise contributes a smooth, balanced sound to every piece, and their creativity lends a liveliness to the album that is absent from most Final Fantasy arrangements. While almost every piece repeats the main theme two or three times, the actual arrangements frequently vary. Individual sections perform on top of and behind the orchestra, adding accents to the selections that sound almost improvisational and give the album a festive air.
The album has no particular theme, nor are the tracks presented in an order that contributes to their presentation. However, they are well chosen, lending themselves well to the arrangers’ and orchestra’s talents. There are no duds here, and the album makes for good listening regardless of one’s fandom for the music of Final Fantasy or even game music in general. The technical audio work enhances the results and makes the album pleasant for background or active listening.
Those who are fans of Uematsu’s work will have a rich set of surprises. In fact, “full of surprises” is a good summary for this album. Ever wonder what Kefka’s Theme would sound like as a big band swing/jazz piece? Wonder no more! Can the Gold Saucer be played solely on recorders? Give it a listen!
One of my favorite surprises was “Something to Protect,” from Final Fantasy IX. The original was a synthetic version of an orchestrated Spanish-like dance, and this arrangement takes the idea and runs with it. The Siena Orchestra is complemented by instruments such as bells, castanets, and a harp that come together to capture the late medieval feel that the original could only hint at. The end result is a perfection of the original that is well worth a listen.
The majority of the album consists of solid pieces that rely on Siena’s roots as a traditional orchestra, but also play to their strengths. Both the medley “Main Theme FFI/II/III” and the song “Main Theme of Final Fantasy IV” are carried by clarinets, flutes, and gentle horn swells that bring out the high fantasy themes of their settings. Other pieces, such as “Cosmo Canyon” and the opening piece, “Battle on the Big Bridge,” rely on the combination of power and expression that an orchestra brings. Meanwhile, “Fight with Seymour” and “Fragments of Memories” stand at opposite extremes, the former full of brass, orchestra hits, and snare drums that sound appropriate for a marching band, and the latter performed by smooth clarinets that turn the music box melody into a pastoral theme.
If there is anything disparaging to say about the album, it is that, once again, we have an orchestral arrangement of “The Man with the Machine Gun,” which hardly needed the work. It was already arranged by Shiro Hamaguchi himself and performed by orchestra for both Distant Worlds II and the 20020220 album. This arrangement doesn’t deviate heavily and leaves me suspecting that Hamaguchi arranged all 3 versions.
While many of the other songs have also been done before, the arrangements here are largely unique, and the Siena Orchestra’s liveliness along with the superior technical work on the audio make this a top-shelf orchestral album that raises the question, why the misleading “brass” in the title? To be clear, Siena refers to itself as a wind orchestra, and this is accurate. They are a diverse, predominantly woodwind orchestra, not a brass band, and their versatility and talent should not be underestimated.
On that note, anyone looking to add another set of orchestral arrangements to their Final Fantasy collection, or those who enjoyed the first BRA★BRA, should not hesitate to grab a copy of this album. If you are a lover of contemporary orchestra, or game arrangements in general, you will also find much to love here. It is an excellent example of what makes orchestras fun, Uematsu’s melodies memorable, and games worth listening to.
Go get it, bra!