RECORDS

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The Independent Culture
Verdi: Don Carlos. Alagna, Hampson, Van Dam, Mattila, Weier/Orchestre de Paris/Pappano (EMI, three CDs). When the much-trumpeted Paris production of Don Carlos transferred to Covent Garden earlier this year we all - well, most of us - wondered what the fuss was about: the staging was unremarkable and Roberto Alagna seemed small, in every sense, in the title role. But what disappoints live can be a different matter with some careful engineering work on disc; and this recording - of the Paris shows - is a text-book example. Alagna sounds superb, "present" in a way he certainly wasn't in London. Thomas Hampson, Karita Mattila and Jose Van Dam provide magnificent support. And Antonio Pappano almost convinces you that the Orchestre de Paris is a great ensemble. It doesn't quite compete with the old, infinitely loving EMI recording under Giulini, but among modern accounts of the full, French five-act version it's probably the best. Michael White

Nirvana: From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah (Geffen, CD/LP/tape). The Wishkah is the river that runs through Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington. This long-awaited live record is Nirvana's Viking funeral: rather than leaving the band mummified in the inaptly user-friendly mausoleum of 1994's Unplugged, it takes their legacy out onto the water and puts a torch to it. Of the 16 tracks here, only one (a dreary, almost catatonic "Spank Thru") is anything less than thrilling. The scary thing is that - his sorry end and subsequent iconification notwithstanding - Cobain in full throat is still one of the most life-affirming sounds available.

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