1. THE 5 BROWNS-The 5 Browns
Weeks on chart: 6
Style: Solo and multiple-piano arrangements of Ravel, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, et al.
Worldview: The Browns "want to reach out to a new generation . . . one that has been fed on commercial pop and has yet to discover what the Browns know: that classical music can be interesting and cool" (from the notes).
Overall quality: The Browns' youth and siblinghood merits (and has gotten) more attention than the quality of these recordings.
2. TUSCANY-Andre Rieu
Weeks on chart: 26
Style: Late 18th- through early 20th-century showcase (Beethoven, Respighi).
Worldview: That listeners "will marvel at the ancient beauty of Tuscany in the city of Cortona as Andre and orchestra play. . . . And, for those who are unable to make the trip, this wonderful album . . . will give a taste" (the liner notes).
Overall quality: Beauty marred by showboating live performances that turn the last third into a mini "classical music's greatest hits."
3. YO-YO MA PLAYS ... MORRICONE-Yo Yo Ma
Weeks on chart: 25
Style: Serious film scores arranged for cello and orchestra.
Worldview: That "[t]o hear a Morricone score-whether it is the luminous meditations of The Mission or the gritty tension of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly-is . . . to be plunged into the atmosphere, the subtext, and the soul of a film" (the liner notes).
Overall quality: Best appreciated by those familiar with the original soundtrack recordings.
4. RACHMANINOFF: PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2-Lang Lang
Weeks on chart: 6
Style: The Russian romanticist's two best-known and oft-recorded compositions.
Worldview: That "Rachmaninoff's Second Concerto, [which] is famous for marking in music the composer's emergence from a long period of depression, . . . can be read in very personal, intimate terms, what Lang Lang calls 'the darkness of his soul'" (the liner notes).
Overall quality: Will no doubt enhance Mr. Lang's reputation as one of the preeminent young pianists of our time.
5. THE CHORUS-Bruno Coulais
Weeks on chart: 10
Style: Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc [boys'] Choir with the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra.
Worldview: "Bonheurs enfantins / trop vite oubliés effacés / une lumière dorée brille sans fin / tout au bout du chemin" (Childhood pleasures / too soon forgotten, erased, / a golden light ever shines / at the end of the path) (from "Vois Sur Ton Chemin" [Look to Your Path]).
Overall quality: Touchingly bittersweet in its evocation of the transience of childhood.
In the spotlight
One reason that aestheticians consider the music of classical composers superior to the music of contemporary pop-chart toppers is that the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc., have triumphed over time. Generation after generation, their music has fresh life breathed into it by the finest musicians and in turn breathes fresh life through them into society. Most rock-era pop, on the other hand, is so bound up with its moment that recreating it seems redundant.
Consider Petra Haden Sings the Who Sell Out (Bar/None), an a cappella recreation of the 1967 Who album The Who Sell Out. The original recording, best known for its radio-ad segues and Pete Townshend's and John Entwistle's tongue-in-cheek songs, remains enjoyable as a send-up of the idea of the "concept" album as popularized by the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper. An enduring masterwork, however, it apparently isn't. Bereft of context, Petra Haden's ultimately labored reworking will leave very few in awe of Messrs. Townshend and Entwistle's "genius."