Hänssler Classic's Railroad Rhythms: Classical Music About Trains is the sort of collection that hasn't come down the track in some time. At least not since the early '90s, when Naxos' full-price cousin Marco Polo shoveled up two volumes entitled Locomotiv-Musik on the same theme -- at the time, a waggish Tower Records clerk responded by setting up a section card reading "Choo-Choo Music." Out of the roundhouse, Railroad Rhythms: Classical Music About Trains has an advantage in being performed by the SWR Radio Orchestra Kaiserlautern, a somewhat comparatively better orchestra than the one-car-is-the-same-as-another approach employed by Marco Polo's Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra Kosice. Admittedly, though, the program, extending to such modernists as Copland, Revueltas, and Leonard Bernstein, is farther ranging than the two Marco Polo volumes, which were entirely limited to locomotive-driven works of "Famille Strauss" and their various competitors. In this respect, sometimes Railroad Rhythms winds up on the wrong track; Copland's John Henry: A Railroad Ballad doesn't seem to belong here and is neither a good performance (nor piece), and one wonders what an orchestral arrangement of Antonín Dvorák's Humoresque No. 7 is doing here -- did he write it on a train? (For the record, the notes state, "the humoresque of the railroad fanatic Antonín Dvorák seems instead to exude a feeling of delight at being able to reach the fresh air of a summer resort with the help of a train" -- uhh, yeah.)
On the other hand, there are a few plusses: most of the railroad-related Viennese bonbons are performed very well, there is a terrific performance of Hilding Rosenberg's unjustly neglected Railway Fugue, and a delightful surprise to be discovered in mega-obscure composer Aloïs Pachernegg's Unter Dampf! Ein Zug fährt vorüber. One should steer clear of the lumpy, bumpy, and underpowered performance here of Arthur Honegger's famous Pacific 231, and it should be stated that SWR's recording throughout is a little tinny and lacking in the low end. Whether or not one would want to own Hänssler Classic's Railroad Rhythms: Classical Music About Trains partly depends on how big a train nut one happens to be.