Renée Fleming (soprano) Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Bicket (Decca SACD 475 618-6)

From the limpid first notes of 'Oh sleep, why dost thou leave me?' ( Semele ) to the slow fade of 'Calm thou ... Convey Me' (Alexander Balus), the honey-toned American soprano Renée Fleming has the listener rapt throughout this superb collection. Some sprightly, some dramatic, some lachrymose, all exquisite, these 16 arias from a dozen Handel operas explore the full range of Fleming's remarkable gifts, her tone still pristine even when most exposed. With the OAE's eloquent support under Harry Bicket, this is yet another rich treasure trove for all Handelians.


Michele Pertusi (Falstaff), Carlos Alvarez (Ford), Ana Ibarra (Alice Ford), Marina Domashenko (Meg Page), Jane Henschel (Mistress Quickly) LSO & Chorus/Davis (LSO Liver LSO0055) (2 CDs)

Hard on the heels of their magnificent Peter Grimes, Sir Colin Davis and the LSO unite with a fine array of soloists to bring all the requisite wit, sparkle and poignancy to Verdi's Shakespearean masterpiece. Pertusi is outstanding in the title role. Recorded over three concert performances at the Barbican in May, yet as theatrical as any opera-house version, this rates as one of LSO Live's finest releases to date, even by the in-house label's own high standards.

Two Hands
Piano music by Bach, Scarlatti, Chopin, Debussy and Schubert

Leon Fleischer (piano) (Vanguard Classics ATM CD 1551)

Behind this example of expert piano-playing at its most refined lies a very touching story. Forty years ago, the American pianist Leon Fleischer lost the use of his right hand to an obscure neurological disorder - since identified as dystonia. Now, thanks to scientific advances, he has regained its use and returned to the concert platform and the studio, in two-handed repertoire, for the first time since the 1960s. A pupil of Schnabel, Fleischer confesses that the disability nearly broke his spirit, but he continued teaching until this near-miraculous recovery in his late seventies. Here, his elegant touch is evident in some favourite pieces, climaxing in the (to him) 'holy' B flat major sonata of Schubert.

· To order Handel for £12.99, Verdi for £9.99 or Two Hands for £13.99, each with free UK p&p, call the Observer Music Service on 0870 836 0713


Anthony Holden

The GuardianTramp

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