CLASSICAL

Elgar: Violin Concerto. Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending. Kennedy/CBSO/Rattle (EMI, CD). When the artist formerly known as Nigel Kennedy first recorded Elgar's Violin Concerto, it made his name and won a place in every record guide as the performance of choice. But that was 12 years ago in the chronology of an artist who peaked early, lost his direction, temporarily retired, and is now back with a change of name (as Lulu is "Lulu", Kennedy is henceforth "Kennedy"). His decision to re-record the Elgar is similarly symbolic: a revisiting of roots. And I wish I could say it was a wise thing to have done, but the results are mixed. There's a dynamic, in-your-face excitement and an earthy rawness in the playing. The third-movement cadenza is extraordinary. And I doubt if there are any other active violinists around who approach the piece with such self-identifying intensity. But the sheer beauty of the old version is missing at critical moments. And for all the gloss of the recording process, I don't ultimately find the orchestral playing of first quality.

The same goes for the Vaughan Williams filler. It's luscious but earthbound, and with too much focus on the soloist, as though the piece were a concerto. It isn't. This disc documents where Kennedy stands at the mid-point of a switchback career: strong stuff. But not something I would choose to live with. Michael White

POP

Natalie Imbruglia: Left of the Middle (RCA, CD/ tape). With a name like a luxury dessert, Natalie Imbruglia is the artist formerly known as Beth from Neighbours, but apparently we shouldn't confuse her with Kylie et al. According to her record company, we should be comparing her instead with Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. She's a sophisticated rock artiste.

Now, if you wanted to be cynical about it - and I do - you might note that when Kylie started making records, her brand of fluffy-toy pop was just the kind of music people expected of her. Since then, the world has been conquered by Alanis Morissette and Sheryl Crow, so it's a lot more fashionable, and more lucrative, to be a singer-songwriter, expressing your innermost anxieties in a voice that suggests you're just about to start crying.

Left of the Middle is an astoundingly well-produced, totally contemporary album, and it's destined to sell as many copies as Texas's. But it's hardly original. "Leave Me Alone" is Portishead with a pinch of Alanis and Sheryl thrown in, and the rest is just Alanis and Sheryl.

When it comes to singing, writing songs and being attractive, Natalie beats both Minogue sisters tied together. But her music doesn't say much more about her personality than Kylie's ever said about hers. The new Joni Mitchell? She should be so lucky.

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