RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
ROCK

Arab Strap: The Week Never Starts Round Here (Chemikal Underground, CD/LP/tape). Why would two nice young men from Falkirk choose to name themselves after an obscure sado-masochistic implement? That is just one of the many questions raised by this outstanding debut album. Another is how the same record could simultaneously suggest Tricky's fractured interior monologues, the new folk of Palace and Smog and the infamous unreleased tapes of Irvine Welsh setting his diary to the music of Joy Division, while actually sounding like nothing but itself. Strange booming drum machines, beautifully played acoustic guitars and stingingly acerbic wit have never been combined more fruitfully. Ben Thompson

CLASSICAL

Jane Eaglen: Bellini & Wagner (Sony, CD). Sony spent some time shopping around for its own in-house diva before it came up with Jane Eaglen, and she certainly has the credentials for diva-dom. This first recital disc has her in Callas mode, coupling Bellinian bel canto with Wagnerian helden weight; and the singing is grandly imperious, opening up and out after a less certain lower-register start to "Casta Diva", and hugely impressive in the Wagner which, as you might guess, comprises Isolde's Liebestod, Brunnhilde's Immolation and a brief burst of Hojotohos between. My slight reservation is that the tone can be hard and the recording ambience unattractive, especially in the Bellini numbers. But this is still, unarguably, a voice of stature - and it is sympathetically supported by Mark Elder, who confirms that he has the vision, soul and sustaining power of a first-rate Wagnerian. Michael White

Ravel: Piano Concertos. Honegger & Francaix: Concertinos. Jean-Yves Thibaudet/ Montreal SO/Dutoit (Decca, CD). The steely but subliminally sympathetic brilliance of Jean-Yves Thibaudet always seems right for Ravel, and although I wish he surrendered slightly more to the poignancy of, say, the middle movement in the G Major Concerto on this disc, there's no denying that he has the idiom. Everything comes with cut-glass clarity and a touch of archness that strikes exactly the right note for the two lightweight neoclassical concertinos by Honegger and Francaix that fill the playing time. Dutoit and his orchestra sound as crisply French as anything you'll find on a winter's night in the Tuileries, and certainly play better than any orchestra France manages to field these days. MW

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