Latest reviews of new albums:
A Symphonic Celebration

Billed as the first in a series of releases under a new arrangement between composer Joe Hisaishi and elite label Deutsche Grammophon, A Symphonic Celebration explores the music of the famed composer for his most famous collaborator, the even more famed director Hayao Miyazaki, on the eve of the release of the latter’s latest “final film” (given he’s 82, I’m guessing this time it may well be).

While all of the music on this album has been released many times previously, I’ll say straight away that any fan of Hisaishi should rush out to buy it immediately. The Royal Philharmonic’s performance is spot-on, DG’s legendary recording quality allows that performance to be enjoyed to the full – and above all, the music itself is just breathtaking, particularly in this symphonic form, generally grander and more dynamic than on the original soundtrack recordings.

Joe Hisaishi

All ten of the duo’s movies together (prior to 2023’s How Do You Live?) are featured, generally in lengthy suites. It starts with their first, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (which actually pre-dates Studio Ghibli), with its romantic main theme “The Legend of the Wind”. The “Nausicaä Requiem” is grand and powerful with its chanted dies irae, then we move into some action territory before the rousing finale “The Bird Man”.

The suite from Kiki’s Delivery Service begins with the gorgeous, florid waltz “A Town with an Ocean View”, which is a real highlight; then we move to the epic action of Princess Mononoke with the powerful “The Legend of Ashitaka” and “The Demon God” before a beautiful rendition of the score’s vocal theme (sadly the digital album comes with no booklet so I’ve no idea who the tremendously talented vocalist is).

Then comes a change of pace, with the silky smooth lightness of touch of The Wind Rises and “A Dream of Flight”, one of my favourite Hisaishi themes – and after the delicate “Nahoko” we get the symphonic version of the same theme in “A Kingdom of Dreams”. The soaring “Deep Sea Pastures” opens the suite from Ponyo, ebbing and flowing and spectacular; then there’s the reflective vocal of “Mother Sea”, no less beautiful. The joyous choral version of the film’s title song (a real ear-worm) which ends the suite is just a pure delight.

Castle in the Sky is represented by the somewhat gentle fanfare “Doves and the Boy” and the moving anthem “Carrying You” for mixed choir – the opening section for children is really quite exquisite and the brassy ending is explosive. Porco Rosso is represented by a single track, the melancholic “Bygone Days”, quite different from everything else on the album – what the soft jazz piano has in common though is just how pleasant it is. Howl’s Moving Castle has a twelve-minute “Symphonic Variation on Merry-Go-Round and Cave of Mind” – it’s a belter of a suite mixing the light-hearted main theme with an opulent waltz and some brilliant material for brass chorale.

The great Spirited Away opens with an absolutely beautiful rendition of its song “One Summer’s Day” – the opening duet between the piano and wordless vocal is a particular treat. The next piece is “Reprise”, though it doesn’t reprise anything in this form – an over-the-top romantic symphonic song. The album concludes with three tracks from Studio Ghibli’s signature movie, the great My Neighbour Totoro – including the magnificent title song to wrap everything up.

As is their custom, DG have released numerous different versions of the album – the deluxe edition which adds a second CD only actually has two more tracks on it (the second disc runs for seven minutes) – but they’re very much worth having, a standalone rendition of Howl’s Moving Castle’s brilliant “Merry-Go-Round of Life” and an English-language version of “One Summer’s Day”. This is such a good album – Hisaishi steers pretty close to some classical greats at times but who cares about that? This music in this form is a showcase for his single greatest gift – that of bringing joy – in perfect harmony with Miyazaki. Joy is everywhere here – every track is infused with it. I love it.

Tags: ,

  1. Kevin (Reply) on Wednesday 12 July, 2023 at 04:05

    What a lovely surprise. I’ve always enjoyed Hisaishi’s work for Studio Ghibli, especially Spirited Away. I hope that DG releases some of his live action work too, like Departures.

  2. Jose (Reply) on Wednesday 12 July, 2023 at 23:47

    I sure love Hisaishi’s music. If you want to check some of his other scores there’s the score he did for the movie Otoko-tachi no Yamato. Such a breathtaking score!

    One of the tracks, Elegy of Men, is one of my favorites action themes ever. Any similarities with Zimmer’s The Rock is pure coincidence lol