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The Independent Culture

Samuel Barber: The Complete Songs. Cheryl Studer/Thomas Hampson/John Browning/Emerson Qtet (DG, two CDs). If you've never explored Barber's vocal settings beyond the twilit American nostalgia of Knoxville, or maybe Dover Beach (which Barber used to sing himself), then be prepared for a treat. These songs are a treasure-house of charm, intelligence and Europhile sophistication - qualities that come in generous measure from Studer and Hampson. I'd have thought these discs had award-winning potential; and if they don't fire a significant shot or two in the battle to revive interest in Barber's broader catalogue of works, then there's no justice. Michael White

Modern Jazz Quartet: MJQ and Friends (Atlantic, CD/tape). Adding guest soloists seems a funny way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this distinguished quartet, one of the most perfect self-contained jazz organisms. And, sadly, the results are indeed disappointing. There's first-rate playing, of course, from the likes of Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Illinois Jacquet, Phil Woods, Sweets Edison, Bobby McFerrin, Jimmy Heath and Freddie Hubbard, on a sequence of standards (including two MJQ favourites, 'Bags' Groove' and 'Django'), but a certain sense of occasion is missing. What this proves is that all the novelty the MJQ ever needs is contained within its members' playing and John Lewis's compositions. If you missed 1987's Three Windows (Atlantic), with the New York Chamber Symphony, try to find that instead. Richard Williams




Haydn: Infedelta Delusa. La Petite Bande/ Kuijken (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, double CD). Inconsequential, enchanting Esterhaza opera, lightly cast and brightly played. MW

David Matthews: Symphony No 4. East of England Orchestra/Nabarro (Collins, CD/ single). A sampler of new British writing of the not-necessarily-Pastoral school. MW

The Meat Puppets: Too High to Die (London, LP/CD/tape). Lovely desert melodies and the odd bit of whistling. Ben Thompson

Iris DeMent: My Life (Warner, CD/tape). Poignant, personal laments from Kansas City's unassuming queen of country. BT

Ride: Birdman (Creation, single). Beautiful ode to nature's dark forces, which plummeted 32 places in the chart after their appearance on Top of the Pops. David Cavanagh