One of those composers whose name you might not be instantly familiar with, but whose music you certainly will be, Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi has been captivating audiences for the best part of two decades with his beautifully delicate and minimal arrangements, many of which have gone on to become soundtrack staples for everything from costume dramas to TV adverts to Hollywood films. Celebrating his increasingly popular output, Islands: Essential Einaudi compiles the Milan Conservatory graduate's most recognizable pieces, with material from his first solo piano record, Le Onde ("Questa Notte"), right up to 2009's synth-based Nightbook (the gothic cello-led title track), alongside a brand new composition, "The Earth Prelude." There are also two of his contributions to the small screen, "Fairytale," whose simple melodies reflect the elegance of the 2002 Keira Knightley ITV adaptation of Doctor Zhivago it appeared in, and the suitably haunting "Berlin Song," which soundtracked Shane Meadows' unflinching kitchen sink drama, This Is England '86. The bombastic symphonies of "Primavera" and the warm subtle strings of the ubiquitous "Divenire," both collaborations with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, show Einaudi is just as capable of producing a more expansive sound, but his trademark, ambient ivory-tinkling is much more powerful when it's left to its own devices, as on the lilting "Passagio," the gorgeously melancholic "Dietro Casa," and the effortlessly soothing "I Giorni," the title track from his 2001 breakthrough which recently and belatedly entered the U.K. Top 40 following Radio1 DJ Greg James' championing it as the ultimate therapeutic track to unwind to. Einaudi's signature sound may be a little too sedate for those who like their neo-classical music a little more rousing, but Islands' ability to stir up emotions with just a few chords shows that his works are far from easy listening fodder.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien