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RPO Celebrates Studio Ghibli Scores of Hisaishi

Many film music fans will rejoice at the surprising appearance of this new Deutsche Gramophone release devoted to the scores of Joe Hisaishi: A Symphonic Celebration--Music from the Studio Ghibli Films. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Bach Choir are featured in this survey of memorable selections from across ten scores by Joe Hisaishi. The music is all for the Studio Ghibli films of Hayao Miyazaki that span ten films between 1984-2013. Hisaishi’s working method was to craft concept albums for the films and then alter these musical impressions for their respective films. The scores were critically acclaimed throughout the film music world. In a way, he has taken that now one step further to adapt a variety of selections in this marvelous collection of enjoyable themes from the films.

Things get off to a gorgeous start with the delightful “Merry-Go-Round Of Life” from Howl’s Moving Castle (2004; another variation of this appears later). This is followed by “One Summer’s Day” from Spirited Away (2001) which features a gorgeous vocal from Mai Fujisawa. The following selections are grouped then by their respective films to create mini-suites. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984) was the first of the composer/director collaborations. The five selections here are a good representation of the score now reimagined for symphonic orchestra and chorus with highlights including the Handelian “Nausicaa Requiem”, the more energetic “The Battle Between Mehve and Corv”, and “The Bird Man”. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) is represented by three selections including another waltz (“Heartbroken Kiki”) and a gorgeous moment for solo violin and orchestra (“Mother’s Broom”). It was with Princess Mononoke (1997) that these films gained a more worldwide notice and it’s music is represented by three selections including its title theme. The more recent The Wind Rises (2013) garnered critical recognition winning a Japanese Academy Award, and was nominated for an animated score Oscar. Ponyo On the Cliff By The Sea (2008) opened up this filmic world more to a younger audience and is represented here by two selections including the title theme. There are also a couple tracks each representing music from Castles in the Sky (1986) and Spirited Away (2001), with “Bygone Days” from 1992’s Porco Rosso and the aforementioned “Merry-Go-Round” variations sandwiched in between. Things wrap up nicely with a little suite of three selections from My Neighbor Totoro (1988).

The Royal Philharmonic and the various soloists here approach these pieces with great joy. These are such gorgeous and often lush arrangements that they create an entrancing collection of thematic writing. Hisaishi is a brilliant colorist and that comes to the forefront throughout these various selections quite well. On top of this, his melodies are often achingly beautiful and quite refreshing in their seemingly simple outlines under which the harmonic shifts add so much to the emotional expression. It makes for an amazingly magical album. One note in the download version is that the transitions sometimes to a selection within a track feel a bit too abrupt, but this is a small problem from an otherwise stellar release. This may be the best recorded and performed compilation of film music this year. At nearly 88 minutes, it provides a great overview of these scores for the casual listener. It is also available as a digital download.


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