Let me make one thing clear: I am not a gamer. I am, however, an admirer of the recordings of La Pieta, the Canadian all-female string orchestra, and their leader, violinist Angele Dubeau. In particular, I appreciate their impeccable musicianship and the good taste of the arrangements that are composed for the ensemble. In recent recordings, they've championed the music of notable contemporary composers Philip Glass, John Adams, and Arvo Part, all favorites of mine.
So my first thought upon seeing the cover of their new release, Game Music, was, "So it's come to this! They've stooped to playing the theme music to Ms. Pac-Man and Space Invaders?!" Did I mention that I'm not a gamer?
Well, after actually listening to the disc and doing a little research, I realized my disbelief was unfounded. Video games and their music have come of age. But you really don't need to be a gamer to enjoy this recording.
Game music has come a long way from the days of synthesized "bleeps" and "blips." Video game production is big business these days, and nothing is left to chance. As with Hollywood blockbusters, huge creative teams are employed in game creation, and games can spend months in production. As video games have become more and more complex, so have their scores, which now can include full orchestral pieces and may be matched to the game player's current actions or situation. Composers working in pop and classical genres have found writing game soundtracks a rewarding profession. Even notable film music composers like Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino have gotten into the act.
The increasing quality of game music scores has led to increased recognition for their composers. Awards, including a Grammy category, have been established, and symphonic concerts of game music are held around the world.
La Pietà's Game Music is a logical follow up to their previous recording, A Time for Us, which celebrated movie themes. Upon listening, many of the video game scores on Game Music could be mistaken for contemporary movie soundtracks. Some are very episodic, with quickly changing textures and atmosphere. The main theme from Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction has all the mystery and suspense of a thriller. The exoticism of Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross would work well for a James Bond caper.
Though most of the music here originally accompanied serious fantasy or shoot-'em-up type games, there are some lighter moments. The themes from Angry Birds and Tetris are quite humorous, the latter juxtaposing a rollicking Russian folk tune with a stately Bach minuet, played on the harpsichord.
Fans of movie music or light music will be engaged by these vignettes, and video game aficionados will appreciate this musical tribute to their favorite pastime. The history of video game music is surveyed here, from 1984's Tetris to 2011's Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Though the game soundtracks are arranged for La Pieta's special blend of solo violin, strings, piano, and percussion, Ms. Dubeau insists that they have not distorted the originals, but rather have breathed new life into them. Indeed, La Pieta's spirited performances and trademark polish and panache shine throughout their presentation of this unique repertoire.