Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu Review: A VGM Tour-De-Force
Benyamin Nuss is a German pianist, best known for his Final Fantasy: A New World live performances, Kingdom Hearts concert live performances, and his frequent collaborations with Final Fantasy XIII composer, Masashi Hamauzu. Back in 2010, Nuss released a tribute album in honor of Nobuo Uematsu, titled: Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu. He most certainly does play Uematsu and quite well at that!
For those unfamiliar with Nobuo Uematsu (which you shouldn’t be), he was the mainstay composer of the Final Fantasy series until he left the Square Enix music team in 2003, whereupon he began work on other titles such as Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon. All these other works are important, as it is not just Uematsu’s Final Fantasy work that is covered on this album. In fact, the full breadth of Uematsu’s work up until September 2010 (the release of the album) is included here. Incidentally, that was also the release of Final Fantasy XIV (1.0 version), which Nobuo Uematsu composed for, but you won’t find any FF XIV music here. Presumably, it would’ve been impossible for Benyamin to cover it on this album.
To keep things simple, and to give you a good idea of what to expect, I’ll list what work Benyamin has covered for the album:
Lost Odyssey (3 tracks)
Final Fantasy VI (2 tracks)
Final Fantasy VII (1 track, a complete mashup of themes)
Final Fantasy VIII (2 tracks)
Final Fantasy IX (1 track)
Blue Dragon (4 tracks)
2 original piano pieces by Nuss, one titled “Nobuo’s Theme”, and the other piece dedicated to himself, titled “Years and Years”.
As you can probably tell, this is a diverse list of games, and I’m very thankful it’s not just Final Fantasy — Lord knows enough people have covered FF music in so many ways already! What you can expect here is professional-quality work. This isn’t just a simple piano cover — it’s a complete re-arrangement that Benyamin has put a lot time and care into. I can tell how much Benyamin cares because whenever he’s playing at concerts, you can see the emotion practically flowing out of him!
To start, I am a big fan of the Lost Odyssey arrangements, being a fan of the game myself. It is important to note that the opening piece, “Prologue” doesn’t actually sound that similar to the original version, and is fact, an entirely different take on the music. For some, I can understand why they would prefer this version, but it wasn’t what I was expecting at all — I was hoping for something more in line with the original. Nevertheless, I am grateful that he covered it, but it will take time to grow on me, that much is certain.
“A Sign of Hope” is much closer to the original, barring a few passages here and there. But hey, that’s all part of the process. Transcribing a once fully-orchestrated song to a single instrument must be difficult. This would explain why Nuss chose to remove the string sections entirely, replacing it with some original piano work.
From those two tracks, you should have a good idea on what to expect for the rest of the album. These are not just simple covers of the original, but rather a complete reworking. Only somebody as experienced and educated as Benyamin Nuss could pull this off effectively. For example, take a look at his performance at Distant Worlds (see below). It doesn’t sound close to the original, does it? If anything, I would encourage more artists to be as creative and imaginative as Nuss – transforming something old into something new by injecting some of your own personality into the music.
As for my general impression, I appreciate Nuss’s creativity and his attempt to create something new. To me, the stand-out tracks are “A Mighty Enemy Appears!” from Lost Odyssey and the huge, 9-minute cover titled “Themes of Final Fantasy VII”. As much as I like the album, there are times when Nuss fills the performance with so much flourish and intricacy that I forget what I’m listening to. “Waterside” from Blue Dragon is a good example of this — after the one-minute mark, it’s piano stroke after piano stroke. There’s a fine line between virtuosity and excess, and it’s a line that sometimes gets blurred on this album. That being said, these moments are far and few between, and don’t weigh the album down too much.
As for whether I’d recommend Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu, I would say this: if you’re a fan of the old Final Fantasy piano collections, then you’ll certainly like this! It’s a completely different take on music that we know and love, filled with new passages and an attempt at originality, as evidenced by the two-original works Nuss has created: “Nobuo’s Theme” and “Years and Years”. You can view a live performance of Nobuo’s Theme here.
If you’re interested in Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu, you can buy the album here. Also, if you enjoyed the piano performances I’ve linked, consider seeing him live at Heidelberg on 28 October 2018, and at Dresden on 14 December 2018, where he will be playing music from Nobuo Uematsu, Masayoshi Soken (FFXIV composer), Masashi Hamauzu, as well as other artists.
This album has been reviewed on other VGM sites, so if you’re interested in a different take on this album, take a look at the review links on this database page.