FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS BOCA
THE 5 BROWNS (3-12-08)
THE 5 BROWNS DAZZLE FITFULLY AT BOCA FEST


By Lawrence Budmen

It is rare enough that two pianos grace a concert hall but the sight of five Steinways on the stage of the tented Count de Hoernle Amphitheater at Boca Raton’s Mizner Park on Tuesday was a stunner. Festival of the Arts Boca presented The 5 Browns in a wide ranging program of music for solo and multiple piano combinations.

The Browns – 3 sisters and 2 brothers – are all graduates of the Julliard School of Music. In many ways they are a positive force in classical music. They exude youth, enthusiasm and vitality and are personable hosts and raconteurs. The large number of young people in the audience attests to their ability to reach new listeners. Yet they do not all have equally strong technique and their performances can run the gamut from exhilarating to mediocre. 

The Browns opened their program with a facile arrangement by Jeffrey Shumway of Home Blues from George Gershwin’s American in Paris that reduced the composer’s jazzy American insouciance to blandness. Nor did Desirae and Deondra Brown offer more than an accurate reading of the notes in the Valse from Rachmaninoff’s Suite No.2 (for two pianos). Gregory and Ryan Brown failed to ignite Louis Moreau Gottschalk’ s Grande Tarantella, a bona fide pianistic showpiece.

Melody Brown struggled with the burning passions of Alexander Scriabin’s Into the Flame. She seemed unable to encompass the score’s technical hurdles ( and was not aided by noise from passing motorcycles outside the amphitheater). 

Gregory’s rendition of Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Jay Kernis’ Superstar Etude No.1 seemed more performance art than serious performance, replete with yelps and wild histrionics. Although intended as a tribute to rock star Jerry Lee Lewis, Kernis adorned his score with tone clusters and rapid leaps across the keyboard that require real virtuosity. 

Yet these young pianists are gifted musicians. When they played to their strengths, the music making was rewarding. Ryan offered an idiomatic, rhythmically syncopated take on Astor Piazzolla’ s Portrait of Alfredo Gobbi, the epitome of tango nuevo. Melody lithely scaled the elegant triplets of Leopold Godowsky’s transcription of Saint-Saens’ The Swan. 

Greg Anderson’s Fantasia on Dives and Lazarus, a set of variations on an English folk tune, was grandly rhapsodic yet crafted with intellectual integrity. The Browns aced the bracing counterpoint with clarity and breezy showmanship. 

Their best offering was the finale – Shumway’s brilliant transcription of three movements from Stravinsky’s Firebird which was true to the composer’ s visionary synthesis of dance rhythms and instrumental color. The Browns dazzled with a veritable fireball of leaping octaves in a triumphant conclusion. As an encore, they essayed a light, speedy view of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee.


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