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The 5 Browns
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Flight of the Bumble Bee [1:24]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990)
Scenes from West Side Story [7:04]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice [8:38]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
La Valse (poème choréographique) [11:26]
Ignaz FRIEDMAN (1882-1948)

Tabatière á Musique, Op. 33, No. 3 [2:46]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Moments Musicaux Op. 1, No. 4 [2:56]
Elégie from Morceaux de fantasies, Op. 3 [6:03]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’Isle Joyeuse [5:31]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op. 28 [7:21]
York BOWEN (1884-1961)
Toccata Op. 15 [4:16]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt, Op. 23 [2:25]
The Five Browns: Desirae, Deondra, Gregory, Melody, Ryan (pianos)
Rec. 23-27 Aug 2004, Right Track Studio, New York City. DDD
RCA RED SEAL (SONY BMG) 82876 66008 2 [59:58]


The Five Browns (Desirae, Deondora, Gregory, Melody and Ryan) present here their unique and rather distinctive début disc. This American quintet of sibling pianists, made up of three sisters and two brothers, are described on their website (www.the5browns.com) as ‘young, beautiful, handsome, likeable, dazzlingly talented and passionate about the music they play’, and each of these numerous attributes comes across in one way or another. Their collective vision is to bring classical music to a wider audience, and, from the general appearance of this disc, more specifically to a younger audience.

The first thing about it that is so refreshing is the way the five go about doing this. All too often we see the more inexperienced listener being blatantly patronised in an unsuccessful attempt to lure them towards classical music; there is no hint of that here. They have given us a varied and committed showcase recital and some compelling reasons to listen further.

The most obviously interesting of the eleven tracks are those that contain the Five Browns all playing simultaneously on five pianos. There are four of these tracks, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, scenes from Bernstein’s West Side Story, Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and In the Hall of the Mountain King from Grieg’s Peer Gynt. What is most immediately striking about the performance of these pieces is the seriously impressive ensemble of this group. The booklet notes tell us that they memorised the music so they could concentrate only on each other, which is clearly evident in the final result. The arrangements used here (by Jeffrey Shumway and Kendell Durelle Briggs) are expertly conceived and executed and demonstrate some intense virtuosity on the part of the Browns. The works chosen in this arrangement are also eminently suitable for the treatment.

The balance between works for five, two and solo pianos is about right – any more five-piano music could quickly become tiresome. The other works give each of the Brown siblings (who are, incidentally, all either graduates or students at New York’s Juilliard School) an opportunity to display their individual talents as soloists. Gregory, Ryan and Melody play two solo pieces each, while Desirae and Deondra, who are a regular piano duo, chose to play Ravel’s climactic La Valse (poème choréographique), the largest piece on the disc. Each of the Browns clearly has his or her own qualities, but there are also many similarities in style and technique with no one sibling standing out as less able than another.

All of the interpretations are convincing, with each of them clearly having ample confidence in their own abilities. An extraordinary amount of maturity is found alongside the obvious youthful exuberance and vitality, the oldest of the five being 25 and the youngest only 19. However, they have a distance to go before they reach real musical maturity, and the playing is not always as subtle and considered as it no doubt will be in the future. As a result of this, the disc constantly demands the listener’s attention. There isn’t a great deal of quiet playing, and some of the quieter sections could possibly have been approached in a softer and more tempered manner to produce a better balanced effect.

The quality of the recording is excellent and there is a much-needed depth and range to the piano sound. Very short silences between the tracks leave little time to absorb the music that has gone before the next piece begins. The booklet notes are also rather scant in furnishing information about the music and why the Browns chose this repertoire. In place of that there is a rather unnecessary and lengthy list of acknowledgements.

These are only minor faults in a disc that I would wholly recommend. I look forward to hearing much more from this group in the future.

Adam Binks

 



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