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Dragon Quest Brass Quintet II :: Review by Juan2Darien

Dragon Quest Brass Quintet II Album Title: Dragon Quest Brass Quintet II
Record Label: Aniplex
Catalog No.: SVWC-7496
Release Date: October 24, 2007
Purchase: Buy at CDJapan


I found the first Dragon Quest Brass Quintet album to be less than stellar therefore I was rather skeptical about this one as well. I find it to have many of the same flaws, although something has been added here — something that, as I said of the first album, would have elevated the compositions to the next level: percussion. Something as simple as adding a bit of percussion here and there was able to provide the necessary colour to make this release an improvement over the original.


The album begins with Dragon Quest's famous "Overture". If you've heard one, you've heard them all. It's heroic and triumphant, if also a tad predictable. Next, we are presented with "Chateau". The original orchestrations featured string solos, which made it lush and soothing. Brass has a natural edge that can simply not achieve the same effect as strings. Having said that, however, this arrangement fares pretty well. It begins with a trumpet solo presenting the main melody and then switches half-way to a horn solo, the softer of the two instruments. It may lose the spirit of the original, but it replaces it with something more proud and heroic.

Sugiyama has yet to fail to capture the spirit of adventure with his world themes and "Endless World" is certainly no exception. This piece is absolutely stellar. Why? Because it marks the first appearance of the percussion. The reason this helps so tremendously is that the brass no longer has to provide the rhythm of the original, instead allowing it to wallow in Sugiyama's majestic melody. The last part of this track achieves a playful spirit, while still maintaining the adventuresome feel of the rest track, although the piece does end on a rather comical note. Speaking of comical, the beginning of "Around the World" sounds like something you might see in a vintage "Tom and Jerry" cartoon. Enhanced by chimes, this melody is absolutely delightful and the brass takes on a jazzy edge that is entirely appropriate for this piece. However, this piece is a medley, so it doesn't stay in one place for long. The next section also embraces the more jazzy side of Sugiyama's composition. This section is lazy and deliciously sleazy. When the movement picks up a bit, with tambourines, it reaches its climax.

Once again, the percussion helps tremendously, adding an extra dose of volume and vigor. Next we're onto the gypsy music from Dragon Quest III. I wasn't sure how this section would fare, since the original piece was absolutely made great by the slightly off-kilter clarinet solos. Strangely, since the previous section featured such a jazzy edge, that same jazzy edge that could have saved this section is absent. My suspicions were correct and brass simply cannot achieve the folksy feel of the original. Luckily, the next and final section does much better, being fun and bouncy before settling down into something much more soothing. "Heavenly Flight" was originally composed for wind solos and lush strings. Unfortunately, although somewhat predictably, this arrangement just does not compare to the original. It does not have the same flowing quality and inspires none of soaring emotions of the original. By this time, it is starting to be clear that the brass quintet fares much better with playful pieces or those requiring technical precision, yet not so well with the more emotional pieces.

If any pieces by Sugiyama require technical precision, it is his castle themes, which are composed in a Baroque style. Dragon Quest IV's "Menuet" is a breath of fresh air then. There is a steady rhythm and the melody is interesting, at first ascending, then descending. I've always felt that Sugiyama's castle themes were a bit humourous in the way that they were played so seriously, capturing the sort of snobbish stiff upper-lip that I'd associate with a castle theme if that makes any sense. Well, that humour is brought out in this arrangement. Next we have another piece from Dragon Quest IV, "Comrades". "But wait", you must be thinking, "wasn't 'Comrades' on the first Dragon Quest Brass Quintet album?" Well, yes and no. The piece on the Dragon Quest IV Symphonic Suite was a gargantuan ten minute medley and the first brass quintet album only covered half of it. Here, it starts off with the same light-hearted comical tune, but moves into more noble, heroic territory. This track is funny because, contrary to my usual consensus with these pieces, the first section is almost ruined by the percussion. The original piece was grand and serene; here, the percussion continues the trend of adding a jazzy flair that just does not work. The next section has the same problem, although to a lesser degree. The piece is tense and bold, but the percussion just detracts from a very serious sounding melody. The piece ends with a reprisal of the opening ditty.

"Melody of Love" is yet another piece that should be soft and romantic, and brass has a naturally gristly sound that simply cannot achieve this. The melody is nice, but is best suited to woodwinds. Luckily, we get our next superb piece of the album with "Violent Enemies ~ Almighty Boss Devil is Challenged". There is still the issue of that slightly comical edge that does not belong in a piece like this, but the piece is still, as it should be, threatening and powerful. The next section is even better than the first because the brass here ends up being downright aggressive and very dissonant. There isn't much of a melody here, so the piece is all about maintaining mood. "Sacrificial Dance" is another gypsy track, but it is more emotional than the previous one heard in "Around the World". The majority of the track is very slow-paced and reflective, but when the bongos come, it becomes soulful and almost longing. Also, strangely, this is one piece that stretches the boundaries of the brass quintet, sounding considerably more 'full' and colourful than any other track on this album. This is a definite highlight.

An issue that just keeps coming back is the fact that, despite this being good music for a brass quintet, it lacks the sufficient colour that the original pieces had. Sugiyama Ending themes were always showstoppers, combining melody with vibrant orchestrations. When stripped down to a mere brass quintet, these pieces lose much of their emotional impact. "Triumphal Return ~ Epilogue" does sound epic and triumphant, but after the first few minutes, it gets a bit relentless and perhaps a bit monotonous. The percussion here is also a bit overwhelming, except for one moment where chimes are heard, giving the feel a magical feel. This segues into the next, wandering section that nearly saves the track simply because the melody is so strong. "Reminiscence" abides by the more comical sound of the brass quintet, which, as I have stated before, result in some of the best tracks on the album. This time only, the fault is with the original material. The melody is not that memorable, and the constant rhythm, kept by a triangle, gets old rather quickly. "Sanctuary" lets loose with vibrant fanfares and militaristic percussion. The piece is very well developed, for a moment even switching to major key. By the end of the piece, the journey has come to nearly a halt, and it ends slowly and heroically. The best piece was certainly saved for last.


While I still don't think that limiting Koichi Sugiyama's masterful classically-oriented music to a single instrumental group can possibly do it proper justice, this album comes closer than the other brass quintet CD and even the string quartet arrangements. Most of the issues I had with the previous one were solved here with the addition of percussion, but it is still far from a perfect CD. There are many mediocre tracks as well as merely decent ones, yet there are also very few truly outstanding ones. The Dragon Quest Brass Quintet albums seem to be getting progressively better, but this one is still far from perfection.

Overall Score: 7/10