Islands: Essential Einaudi is a best of collection of pieces composed and performed by Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi; the ambient, meditative and beautiful natures of Einaudi's compositions are showcased perfectly by this selection.
Of Einaudi's best known tracks, 'I Giorni' is a favourite for TV adverts and heart string tugging moments of TV dramas and film. A simple solo piano composition with a gently soothing yet logical melody, 'I Giorni' then develops with more movement to become more busy, together with a slight crescendo, before dying to a much quieter interjection and gradually, calmly and seamlessly returning to the original theme, building to a pause before fading into a delicate coda and crescendoing slightly to a definite finish. From the very opening of Einaudi's 'Essential' selection, the great expression and emotion in his compositions is perfectly clear. 'The Earth Prelude' continues with a similar moving and expressive piano line, this time accompanied by an ensemble of soaring, soothing strings. As simple as the composition may be, and frowned upon by many academic music scholars, the music is loaded with feeling, with emotion, and drenched in lush harmonies giving it a very clear flavour of film soundtrack music and sounding delicacy alongside power. Another of Einaudi's best known solo piano compositions 'Le Onde' (the waves) really does conjure images of delicacy twinkling (right hand) over an undulating lower ground (left hand). The music is largely beautiful and tranquil but with a slight uneasiness glimmering through the harmony, and also swells and fades much like the ocean it takes inspiration from.
With percussion, strings and piano from the opening, 'Nightbook' is immediately more rhythmic, driving and perhaps even slightly on edge. Amongst the blend there's a beautiful melodic interplay between the piano and a wonderful rich cello tone which remains prominent throughout over the chugging accompaniment; the same vibrato-laden, rich cello line reappears later during 'Fairytale'. There's a higher pitched interjection in the middle of the piece that contrasts the almost rock sounding edge and pushes forward the delicate soothing nature glimpsed in other pieces. The peace is soon re-interrupted by the return of the full and powerful original blend and drive which launches into a triumphant sounding coda and resolution to close. During 'Diveniere', piano and smooth strings ooze gentle slow-moving beauty tinged with a hint of melancholy; throughout the piece all parts become more fluid and active and build timely crescendos only to fade back to tranquillity. The only criticism of this best of selection is that Einaudi's work remains centred around similar tonality, key signature, pace and feeling throughout; some may find the collection monotonous and lacking variety rather than letting themselves become immersed in its' beauty.
Like many of his compositions, Einaudi constructs 'Dietro Casa' from a repeated simple four-chord progression akin to the construction of a simple pop song. The expression that Einaudi performs with is much like that of Christopher O'Riley's recordings of Radiohead tracks; Einaudi's music is far more concerned with expression and feeling than virtuosy and impressive finger work. Later, 'Passagio' is an entrancing solo piano piece fuelled with the expression and tranquil beauty of many of Einaudi's compositions and contains more of a distinctive and logical structure than steadily developing contents of many preceding tracks. 'Questa Notte' is a moving solo piano composition with a simple, steadily developing yet distinctive melody; the central section sounds very much like a more active development of 'Le Onde', and it is here that we do get a glimpse of a more virtuosic pace with faster moving sequences.
While, as its' title suggests, 'Berlin Song' is more song-like than many other more film score type compositions, the concluding track of the Essential Einaudi collection, 'Melodia Africana III' sounds great familiarity to the preceding contents of the album but nonetheless continues to capture the distinctive beauty, delicacy and serenity of Einaudi's compositions.