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John Fleming's CD picks: John Adams, Stephen Sondheim, Joshua Bell, Detroit Symphony

John Adams

Album: Nixon in China (Naxos)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Finally, a new recording (only the second since the 1987 original) of Adams' iconic opera in a three-CD release. The Opera Colorado production was recorded live in 2008, with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Symphony.

Why we like it: The opera (with Alice Goodman's superb libretto) chronicles President Richard Nixon's breakthrough journey to China in 1972. Robert Orth and Maria Kanyova are stellar as Richard and Pat Nixon, with Orth's comic portrayal reflecting how feelings have mellowed toward Nixon. The star is the minimalist score, smartly conducted by Alsop.

Reminds us of: Philip Glass, Steve Reich

Download this: News Has a Kind of Mystery

Grade: A

Stephen Sondheim

Album: Road Show (Nonesuch)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Sondheim's musical about the Mizner brothers, who had a leading role in the Florida land bust during the Depression, has been staged under four titles: Wise Guys, Gold!, Bounce and now Road Show. Whatever the title, the show has never quite worked, but this production by New York's Public Theater, with Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani as the brothers, is probably definitive.

Why we like it: The acerbic lyrics are eerily relevant to today's financial deeds. Boca Raton is an ode to real estate flipping, in the style of a bouncy ad jingle.

Reminds us of: Addison Mizner's architecture in Palm Beach and Boca Raton

Download this: Boca Raton

Grade: B+

Joshua Bell

Album: At Home With Friends (Sony)

In stores: Now

Why we care: Bell's crossover projects for Sony continue with a vengeance in this collection that pairs the violinist with Sting, Josh Groban, Kristin Chenoweth, Marvin Hamlisch, Tiempo Libre and Chris Botti. These are like the musical soirees Bell throws in the performance space of his New York pad, though tracks were produced in studios.

Why we like it: Bell has recorded all the standard violin repertoire, so he has earned the right to take a breather. He also did several of the arrangements.

Reminds us of: Music for a dinner party

Download these: Come Again (Sting), Para Ti (Tiempo Libre), Il Postino (Carel Kraayenhof, bandoneon), Left Hand Song (Regina Spektor)

Grade: B

Detroit Symphony

Album: The Melody of Rhythm (E1)

In stores: Now

Why we care: The Melody of Rhythm is a triple concerto written by and featuring banjo player Bela Fleck, tabla player Zakir Hussain and double bassist Edgar Meyer as soloists with the Detroit Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting. The CD also has five nonorchestra pieces by Fleck, Hussain and Meyer.

Why we like it: The hybrid concerto is a nice try, but these things rarely come off. The soloists are great musicians who sound better without the orchestra, which seems out of place amid the bluegrass, jazz and Indian ragas.

Reminds us of: A bad date

Download these: The Melody of Rhythm (tracks 3-5)

Grade: C

John Fleming's CD picks: John Adams, Stephen Sondheim, Joshua Bell, Detroit Symphony 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 3:30am]
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