(Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra & Desirae Brown – pianos)
The super-clean-cut Browns are a classical music phenomenon that has risen high on the Billboard charts courtesy of their two earlier CDs. They’re all good-looking and well-behaved and obviously do their practicing religiously, as the good Mormons they are. They’ve brought new younger generation listeners to classical music and the concert hall who never paid a whit of attention to the classics before, so we can thank them for that. I really appreciate them personally because I was a big fan of former Red Seal recording artists The First Piano Quartet of old, and they’ve gone that historic ensemble one better, plus they’re cuter.
The concept this time around is presenting a variety of classical and semi-classical music which seems to fit into a “blue” mood. And not doing Rhapsody in Blue, because they already did that on one of their previous albums. They do close the CD, however, with a slam-bang version of the blues from Gershwin’s An America in Paris, with Chris Botti on trumpet joining them as a guest performer. Of course all 15 tracks here don’t feature all five pianos at once. Some are solo piano and some duos and trios. There is a trio arrangement on a movement of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals in which the third member is not one of the pianists but violinist Gil Shaham. A movement from Piazzolla’s History of the Tango is a thrilling solo performance by the youngest Brown – Ryan.
The numbers which are arranged to keep all 50 fingers of the Browns busy are the 18th Variation of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a medley incorporating Vaughan Williams’ Dives and Lazarus Fantasia with themes of Leroy Anderson and Sibelius, the American in Paris excerpt, and the one “new” work on the disc – Reflections on the great American folk song Shenandoah, by John Novacek. Some of the arrangements are better than others and some of the Browns are better pianists than others, but in general this is a kicky listening experience. I appreciate that the 5 Browns go out of their way to select some interesting and unusual programming rather than doing all hit classical chestnuts. I can’t comment on the bonus track, because it was not included in the advance CD-R I was sent. (Even if it had been I wouldn’t comment on it.)
While I’m griping, it seemed odd that I was sent a separate three-page news release interviewing the CDs’ audio engineer Tim Martyn, which details the equipment and approaches he used in recording the 5 Browns. He used 16 channels, recording at 88.2K PCM, plus two Decca Trees for the rear surround channels, and he speaks about the challenges of focusing the sound of the five pianos, and having the mics get a “birds-eye” view directly into the soundboards with the lids removed. Yet, this is a plain two-channel CD – not a Dual Disc with Dolby 5.1 surround on the DVD side as was their first album. Now perhaps Sony/BMG plans to release another DualDisc surround version later, but come on now – five pianos crammed down to two channels! It cries out for hi-res multichannel on an SACD, which Sony/BMG have been occasionally offering recently!
1. 18th Variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Rachmaninoff) The 5 Browns
2. Carnival of the Animals Aquarium (Saint-Saëns) Desirae & Deondra Brown Gil Shaham, violin
3. Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi from History of the Tango (Piazzolla) Ryan Brown
4. Clair de lune from Suite Bergamasque (Debussy) Desirae, Deondra & Melody Brown
5. Aunt Hagar’s Blues (Handy/Brymn)Gregory Brown
6. Romance from Suite No. 2, Op. 17 for Two Pianos (Rachmaninoff) Desirae & Deondra Brown
7. Intermezzo in A Major (Brahms) Melody Brown
8. Gretchen am Spinnrade (Schubert) Ryan Brown
9. Reflections on “Shenandoah”(Novacek) The 5 Browns
10. Embraceable You (Gershwin) Desirae Brown
11. Nocturne in C Minor (Chopin) Gregory Brown
12. Fantasia on ‘Dives and Lazarus’ (Vaughan Williams/Anderson/Sibelius) The 5 Browns
13. Carnival of the Animals – The Swan (Saint-Saëns) Melody Brown
14. Ich liebe dich (Grieg) Deondra Brown
15. Home Blues from An American in Paris (Gershwin) The 5 Browns Chris Botti, trumpet
16. Everybody Loves Somebody (Lane/Taylor) The 5 Browns, Dean Martin, vocals (Bonus Track)
— John Sunier