Among the many recorded versions of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring that appeared around the work's centennial year, several were of piano transcriptions, in most cases Stravinsky's own four-hand piano arrangement. The 5 Browns' live recording presents a five-pianos version by Jeffrey Shumway that shows the family of virtuoso pianists in various combinations, from the single note at the opening to all ten hands by the ballet's clangorous end. The group deserves kudos for performing this tour de force without scores, and for making it work without a conductor. It's still a rough sounding interpretation, somewhat imprecise in rhythms and a bit opaque in textures, with some disagreement about dynamics. One is tempted to contrast it with the exquisite recording by Lidija and Sanja Bizjak, which uncannily imitates orchestral tone colors, or the wonderful solo version by Jon Kimura Parker, to point out how much subtler they are than the Browns, and how unnecessary it is to have five pianists doing the work of one or two. The group also presents arrangements by Greg Anderson of three movements from Gustav Holst's The Planets (Mars, the Bringer of War, Neptune, the Mystic, and Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity) and Camille Saint-Saëns' Danse macabre, inspired by Franz Liszt's virtuosic solo arrangement. To the extent that the 5 Browns are sincere ambassadors for classical music and their concerts bring in new listeners, they deserve credit for being an unpredictable and exciting act. But their performance of The Rite of Springs is probably better seen on stage than heard on CD.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|The Rite of Spring|