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Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro. Studer, McNair, Bartoli, Gallo, Skovhus. Vienna Philharmonic/ Abbado (DG, three CDs). It has taken Claudio Abbado a long while to record a Mozart opera and he plays safe with this curiously belated disc-debut, using the most traditional of opera orchestras rather than a period band. But there's a definite period-awareness in the playing, which is buoyant, crisp and motivated, running generally to faster speeds than you'd expect. And the approach to text is thorough, so you get the Act IV Marcellina and Basilio arias, as well as the Vienna alternatives for two of Susanna's numbers (included as appendices). But more than this, it's a performance of integrity: not necessarily with the ideal cast - I'd have Bryn Terfel as my Figaro - but with outstanding singers none the less, and governed by a real sense of ensemble. Lucio Gallo's Figaro is substantial, Sylvia McNair's Susanna enchanting; the unreliable Cheryl Studer (the Countess) is at her best; and Cecilia Bartoli, always better on disc than on stage, makes an irresistible Cherubino. Almost certainly Opera Issue of the Year. Michael White

The Rolling Stones: Stripped (Virgin, CD/double LP/tape, out Mon). The Rolling Stones stripped? What, even Keith Richards? Surely there are some standards of common decency which even ... oh, I see. Stripped is actually one of those sort-of-acoustic live affairs which all bands of a certain age do when they're not making albums of cover versions. Too laid-back to bring in the Unplugged stand-bys of a string quartet or a full-blown symphony orchestra, the Stones just act their age and become a supple, bluesy, bar band. The identity fits them like a snug pair of scuffed old cowboy boots. "I felt like a hillbilly for a minute, then," drawls Mick after "Dead Flowers". "Just a minute, mind." There are a few rarities, a few covers (including the inevitable "Like a Rolling Stone") and, best of all, only one song out of 14 written after 1973. Those people who expect something groundbreaking and new from the Stones will be disappointed. Luckily, those people don't exist. Vintage stuff. Nicholas Barber

Queen: Made in Heaven (Parlophone, CD/LP/ tape). Fighting against Aids, Freddie Mercury recorded enough vocals for his bandmates to complete this posthumous album themselves. It's an amazing, inspirational story, but Made in Heaven is not an amazing, inspired work. It's moving considering the context, but it's never Queen at their outstanding best. Still, it stands up as an album proper, and it's full of uplifting, extremely competent pop music with some admirable dash and aplomb. The only real mistake is the final track. This pointless, 22-minute ambient haze is the irritating sound of three men struggling in vain to finish the album, and their band, on an epic note. NB

Nirvana: Singles (Geffen, CD only). It's now four years since "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and I don't know about you, but if I ever hear Nirvana's Unplugged album played in a health-food restaurant again, the temptation to overturn the tables like Jesus in the temple will be nigh-on irresistible. Ten-year-olds roam the street wearing Cobain's ghostly face on their chests like the Turin shroud, and this pounds 24.99 six-single boxed set has the blessing of the band's two surviving members; but Geffen's justification for the release - "an attempt to thwart an exploitative retailer in Holland who's exporting a similar package at exorbitant prices" - seems somewhat disingenuous with Christmas just around the corner. "Marigold" still sounds lovely, though. Ben Thompson

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