If Studio Ghibli soundtracks had a penchant for Castlevania inspired gothic movements.
Long term readers will know my unabashed love for piano arrangements of game music. They form part of my regular music rotation and often give new hot takes on game music themes past and present. Mark Choi recently released a piano collection tackling the orchestral buoyance of Ni No Kuni. Translating eleven pieces into piano solo movements, it is a theatrical collection that goes out of its way to wow you.
Mark Choi performs like a virtuoso. He adds in trills and twinkles in all kinds of places and isn’t afraid to use the loud pedal. He lets the piano sing and ring out with huge bombastic explosions of chords like a marching band. He is rarely subtle for long but is in a constant wax and wane between delicate moments of reflection and tenderness and raptures of gothic-tinged classical poise. These are some of the most dynamic piano arrangements I’ve heard for some time. Mark might even scare a few listeners off with his powerful left hand.
For me, this makes the collection a pure joy. ‘Ni No Kuni – Main Theme’ is an absolute delight as it moves from its soaring power to a high speed freight train finale. ‘Lord High Lord of the Fairies’ feels like a curious Russian circus act mixed with comedy blues. Elsewhere ‘Time for Battle!’ and ‘Exploring Another World’ feel like they belong closer to Castlevania than a Ghibli RPG. It is the virtuoso twist to each rendition – it pulls each song into a bit of a gothic darkness and suspense. ‘Ding Dong Dell, the Cat King’ for example, is utterly mesmerising in its finale but also much darker than its chirpy original.
Each track feels fully fleshed out and Mark Choi uses the piano much like a weapon. The songs feel like they could be placed into classical piano love anime ‘Your Lie in April’ and fit perfectly. Mark shows it time and again as the wrath and emotion is pounded out on closing track ‘The Wrath of the White Witch’. It starts so gently – almost calming. Yet by the end, you feel like you are riding a magical rollercoaster of wonder and danger.
Wonder and danger are the two words I’d describe this album. It is intensely heartfelt to the point of Mark Choi not playing the piano – he wields it. The arrangements are busy – even during the quiet periods and when an arrangement clicks, you’ll be equal parts in awe at the arrangement and the ability that flows through Choi’s fingers. It will take a little getting used to if you prefer laidback arrangements but once you are on board, this ride is an amazing one and I recommend it to all Ni No Kuni, Joe Hisashi and virtuoso pianist fans.
Recommended track: Ni No Kuni – Main Theme
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