Classical
12:55 pm
Tue June 27, 2006

The 5 Browns: No Boundaries

I waited for the second CD from The 5 Browns before deciding to write a review. Impressive as their first disc was, there were several questions I needed answered about the talented five siblings before I could fully embrace their rise to classical stardom.

New Bern, NC - May 2006 – I waited for the second CD from The 5 Browns before deciding to write a review. Impressive as their first disc was, there were several questions I needed answered about the talented five siblings before I could fully embrace their rise to classical stardom.

Had the first CD been a fluke? Were five brothers and sisters playing five grand pianos at once simply a parlor trick? Would they stay "friends" long enough to come up with a second recording?

Well, the new disc from RCA Red Seal helps show that the first one was no fluke, and these talented kinfolk can play the daylights out of the piano and make this listener want more.

When their first CD arrived early last year, I was afraid that each track would be with all five young people playing through each note. Instead,as with the new CD,there are a few pieces in which all five play the piano and others in which only one, two, or three play. It keeps the music from being too much of the same thing and also shows off the individual talents of the musicians.

Ranging in age from 20 to 27, the Juilliard-trained siblings are Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra, and Desirea. Unlike many musical families, where each member takes up a different instrument,the Browns all went for the piano. It turns out to have been good choices all around.

Listeners who insist on hearing a familiar piece of music in the usual way should be forewarned that these are arrangements, for the most part, of mostly well-known works.

The disc begins with all five players on a 10-minute version of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." After getting over missing the wailing clarinet that begins the orchestral version of this seminal American work, I can only say repeated listenings have made me quite fond of this recording.

The quintet also plays on a track that cleverly combines the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts," made popular in Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," with the "Going Home" theme from Antonin Dvorak's "New World" Symphony.

The disc ends with all five playing a nicely compact version of Igor Stravinsky's ballet "Firebird."

Of the other pieces here, my favorite has turned out to be the ones played by the three sisters: a little Waltz and a little Romance by Sergi Rachmaninoff that the Russian composer apparently wrote for three of his female cousins in the 1890s.

The brothers team up for a sizzling performance of "Malaguena" by Cuban composer Ernesto Lecouna. Desirae and Deondra give an impassioned performance of a short section from Maurice Ravel's "Rapsodie Espagnole," and the two sisters also seem to understand what the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski meant when he wrote variations on a much-used "Theme of Paganini."

Solo turns are taken by Ryan in a rag called "Full Stride Ahead" by contemporary composer John Novacek and Franz Listz's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6." The Liszt has been recorded by too many more mature and experienced pianists to be judged fairly, but it's the only track on this disc I've been skipping regularly.

On less familiar ground, Ryan gives vivid performances of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera's "Danzas Argentinas" and Melody's playing of two "Gargoyles" by young American composer Lowell Liebermann makes me want to hear more of those.

OK, The 5 Browns are more than photogenic young people. I'm already looking forward to their third CD.