Seeing a Sinfonia in B of Brahms in an online list of work titles will puzzle most listeners. A closer look reveals a work that's doubly unusual: Swedish conductor and violinist Joseph Swensen has made an orchestral transcription of the Brahms Trio in B major, Op. 8, and he has used the early and rarely heard 1853 version of the piece. Swensen is right that the early version, filled with effusive Schumann-like melody that was redone into complex motivic work in the revision, is worth more frequent hearings, and it goes well with the smaller pieces included: orchestrated versions of the three Romances for violin and piano, Op. 22, of Clara Schumann, and two movements of the even rarer F-A-E Sonata composed collaboratively by Schumann, Brahms, and Albert Dietrich (the initials stood for "Frei Aber Einsam," or free but lonely, the personal motto of violinist Joseph Joachim, the work's dedicatee). Taken in their original settings, the works on the program would make a fine examination of the creative impulses of the Schumann-Brahms circle. The only thing missing is a reason to transcribe these works for orchestra. In the 19th century, transcription would have gone the other way, and Brahms' early chamber writing made unique uses of the pianos. Swensen sets out to transfer every note of the trio to his orchestral setting, resulting in a dense and not particularly idiomatic thicket of sound. There are fine moments: the trio's slow movement is one of the young Brahms' most inspired lyrical creations, and the shorter pieces, in which solo violin parts remain relatively intact, are more successful. The Malmö Opera Orchestra plays well, but the chief audience for this release will be Brahms completists.
In the first decade of the 21st century, as in every decade dating back to the third of the 20th, Walt Disney Pictures successfully created animated and live-action films for pre-adolescents. As a corollary, the studio also commissioned music, often drawing from the ranks of contemporary popular songwriters and performers. Disney's Box Office Hits collects some of the results from films of the mid-2000s, with songs written by the likes of Sheryl Crow, Peter Gabriel, Randy Newman, Rob Thomas, and Rufus Wainwright, and performed by such veteran pop/rock talents as Crow, Gabriel, Thomas, and James Taylor, along with the American Idol-created stars Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, and the teen idol Miley Cyrus. Such artists have come up with tracks in their familiar Adult Top 40 styles, albeit with lyrics that tend to be a bit more simplistic and generalized than usual, although not dumbed-down to toddler level by any means. Gabriel's "Down to Earth" from WALL-E easily could fit on one of his regular albums; Crow seems to be channeling the Who of Tommy for "Real Gone" from Cars; and both Thomas ("Little Wonders" from Meet the Robinsons) and Switchfoot ("This Is Home" from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian) may have been listening to U2 too much. But that is only to say that all of this material could fit on an Adult Alternative playlist. The album's sequencing puts the more unusual musical styles at the end. Jamie Cullum's "Where Is Your Heart At?" (written by Wainwright) from Meet the Robinsons is a neo-swing number, while Camille's "Le Festin" from Ratatouille is a chanson sung in French, and the disc concludes with two instrumental dance tracks, Paul Oakenfold's "Jack's Suite (Paul Oakenfold Mix)" from Pirates of the Caribbean and U.
Reconstruction (Incredibles Remix)" from The Incredibles. Taken together, the selections demonstrate that, while the movies may be for children, the soundtracks often are aimed at their parents.
The CD portion of LIVE FROM ATLANTA is a six-song sample of why Casting Crowns deserves a reputation as one of the most powerful live acts in CCM (that's Contemporary Christian Music, for the uninitiated). While the group's debut studio album was all arena-rock bombast and huge production, the sound here is somewhat stripped-down, allowing the band's catchy songs and emotion-filled performances a bit of room to breathe. This is a particularly good thing in the case of lead vocalist Mark Hall, who is a passionate singer the equal of any secular neo-grunge frontman.
The piano-driven "Voice of Truth," in particular, benefits from the immediacy of the concert hall, and sounds like Elton John or Billy Joel at their dynamic best.
The righteously rocking "American Dream" is also invigorating, its forceful rhythm guitars raging with thunderous power. A worthy companion to the attendant DVD, LIVE FROM ATLANTA showcases Casting Crowns preaching to the faithful with rock & roll intensity.