There holds a special place in our hearts for those precious moments of fun and enjoyment that nurture you through your highs and lows. One such, the immense video game worlds of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts has shaken the world and the video game industry alike. Through its lifespan of over 30 years, it demonstrated just how unique and beautiful the medium of video games is, whilst putting it on the map as a serious artform on top of its immense entertainment value.
The music behind these two juggernaut franchises have had considerable praise for it’s emotional depth and craftsmanship. It has led to sold out concerts around the world as well as landing itself into the Classic FM Hall of Fame year after year amongst the likes of Holst and Mozart. How befitting it is to have its revered music, being played intimately and with such tender love and professionality, by the classically-trained and seriously talented, Russian pianist Natalya Aynsley at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre.
The first half had Aynsley start off with the music of Kingdom Hearts. The fierce lady certainly doesn’t hold back to show her finesse on the piano. There were some very, very interesting tempos, embellishments, fingerings, and left hands going over right hands on the piano that gave me the heebee jeebees as a musician. Aynsley’s technical sprite is a fair tribute to the most famous female video game composer in the world: Yoko Shimomura, who composed the music for all the Kingdom Hearts games to date. From some of Natalya’s inspiring storytelling in between pieces, she spoke of Shimomura’s sense of duty to let people treat the beauty of video game music more seriously, via imbuing it with classical influences and sometimes making things very, very sophisticated.
You can hear many of those classical influences from Natalya’s performance from the likes of Chopin and Beethoven and that’s only one certain influence among many for Shimomura’s range of compositions. For those that still don’t want to take video game music seriously, the might of Shimomura’s composing and Aynsley’s skills in her repertoire would love to prove you wrong.
With the second half of the concert comes the world of Final Fantasy and oh what a world it is. Aynsley’s selection of repetition is certainly a fascinating beast. Her interpretation of certain pieces even more so.
I’m not sure how I feel about how often One Winged Angel gets played in Final Fantasy concerts. It’s a and iconic and brilliant composition of a famous video game villain, but after experiencing it with the Sydney Symphony from Distant Worlds and the intimate, humble ensemble of A New World, it’s a bit of a step down to hear it as a piano reduction no matter how many embellishments or expressive techniques you chuck at the Yamaha. What I would love to hear is a piano reduction of Swing De Chocobo.
Speaking of Chocobos (gigantic, overpowered chicken transports in Final Fantasy), Natalya did give us a Chocobo theme and this one was Cinco De Chocobo. A piece reminiscent of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Standard: Take Five, this take on the famous Chocobo theme was an immense delight which you don’t hear very often and fitted the timbre of the piano beautifully.
There was a certain couple pieces in the Final Fantasy act that felt rushed in tempo. To Zanakand’s tempo felt a bit too fast for a piece filled with gut-wrenching emotion from the moving story of Final Fantasy X. It felt like a high moderato rather a low andante that would let the notes be savoured just that bit more including adding more atmospheric piano pedaling that can let the melody’s emotion soak longer throughout the venue. Even my curious plus one mentioned this to me before I did, despite having no music training or knowledge of Final Fantasy.
Aynsley picked quite a few pieces from Final Fantasy X-2, a game that was not particularly well-received from fans and critics alike especially for its soundtrack and gameplay. Although she gave us an exquisite performance on such pieces, a hardcore final fantasy fan could probably have done with more iconic pieces like “Main Theme of Final Fantasy VII” or even “The Promise” from Final Fantasy XIII.
Be that as it may, these observations are more nitpicks than anything else. Especially from such a diehard fan. As someone that accomplished the AMEB’s prestigious Licentiate in Music while still in high school, Aynsley’s polished rigor as a performer cannot be overstated. Whilst her technical prowess made a song bounce between 7/8 and 7/4 time signatures, her vibrant and quirky charisma made you look forward to every single word she’s about to say in between pieces. That is a very beneficial trait to have as a performer.
Here is a musician that harnesses a symphonic blend of brilliant skill and enchanting charisma. That, with the combination of the finest in video game music makes you wish this concert wasn’t only for one night. The future is bright for this super-talented, geeky pianist. The only question is, when will we have our next concert?