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John Fleming's CD picks: Sharon Isbin, Danielle de Niese, Thomas Zehetmair, Mikel Rouse

Sharon Isbin

Album: Journey to the New World (Sony Clasical)

In stores: Now

Why we care: You could call this Sharon Isbin's folk album. It even has a couple of tracks that feature the classical guitarist's childhood heroine, Joan Baez, still in fine voice. The idea is to trace folk music from English Renaissance lute music like Greensleeves to Baez and fiddler-composer Mark O'Connor, who plays his Strings and Threads Suite with Isbin.

Why we like it: This is quiet, gentle music, for the most part (the O'Connor suite is pretty flashy), that rewards close listening. Joan Baez Suite, composed for Isbin by John Duarte, includes lovely settings of Wildwood Flower, Silkie and Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Reminds us of: A high-class hootenanny

Download these: Andecy, Wayfaring Stranger

Grade: A

Danielle de Niese

Album: The Mozart Album (Decca)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Danielle de Niese is a superstar in the making. At 30, she's not only an agile lyric soprano with a gorgeous silvery sound but also an exotic beauty. Here she sings Mozart concert pieces and opera arias with impeccable support from conductor Charles Mackerras and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Why we like it: De Niese's Mozart program ranges from the tried and true (Exsultate, Jubilate) to the unusual (an alternative aria for Susanna in Act 4 of Le Nozze di Figaro). Still, for all the exuberance and charm, the voice can be a bit bland. You have to worry a bit about the marketing hype pushing her too far, too fast.

Reminds us of: Kathleen Battle

Download this: Laudate Dominum

Grade: B

Thomas Zehetmair

Album: Niccolo Paganini: 24 Capricci (ECM)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Paganini's 24 Caprices are the supreme test for a violinist. The CD liner notes helpfully include a few pages from the scores so black with notes that they look virtually indecipherable. Violinist Thomas Zehetmair seeks to liberate these showpieces from empty technical display in a CD he made in an Austrian monastery.

Why we like it: Itzhak Perlman's 1970s recording is still probably the gold standard, but Zehetmair is impressive for his thinking-man's virtuosity in interpretations full of deft improvisation and ornamentation. But he has fun, too, in this music in which, he says, "there has to be something of the circus ring.''

Reminds us of: Chopin's Etudes

Download this: Caprice No. 24

Grade: A

Mikel Rouse

Album: Gravity Radio (Exit Music)

In stores: Nov. 3

Why we care: Searchers for the elusive nexus of classical and pop will want to check out Mikel Rouse's latest production. Actually, there isn't much classical, but the best of the pop is catchy and brainy.

Why we like it: Rouse does it all, singing (in excellent soulful style) and playing almost all the instruments in a control-freak studio tour de force reminiscent of John Fogerty's one-man show, The Blue Ridge Rangers. There's a wash of psychedelic Beatlemania to the sound texture that is remarkable. Unfortunately, Rouse's song cycle is broken up by tiresome radio news reports meant to constitute a commentary of sorts on media culture and politics.

Reminds us of: Laurie Anderson

Download these: Wait for Me, Star Chamber

Grade: B

John Fleming's CD picks: Sharon Isbin, Danielle de Niese, Thomas Zehetmair, Mikel Rouse 10/10/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 10, 2009 4:30am]
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