PAAVO JARVI, CONDUCTOR, CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA; Prokofiev: "Lieutenant Kije" Suite, Symphony No. 5 (Telarc) *** 1/2

DAVID RUSSELL, GUITAR; "Air on a G String: Baroque Masterpieces" (Telarc) ****

Paavo Jarvi has made quite a few recordings with the Cincinnati Symphony since becoming its music director.

The quality of the performances on these CDs has been inconsistent and hasn't accurately reflected on Jarvi's talents as a conductor. Fortunately, artistic quality has improved radically. Jarvi has found his stride as a recording artist, and now his releases are something to anticipate.

With so many record labels and recordings of the same works on the market, that's important. And while the market hasn't been inundated with recordings of Prokofiev's "Liuetenant Kije" Suite or his Fifth Symphony, there are still plenty of choices. And Jarvi's recent release has quite a lot to recommend it.

Prokofiev's Fifth is probably his best symphony. It's a large, ambitious work, grand in scale and one that can easily stand on its own merits next to almost any of Dmitri Shostakovich's symphonic works. The Fifth is quite lyrical, and Jarvi captures this wonderfully, coaxing a richly expressive reading from his orchestra. It's a lucid and compellingly eloquent performance.

The music Prokofiev wrote for "Lieutenant Kije" is among his most colorful and dynamic, owing no doubt to the fact it was written as a film score. Jarvi captures the music's vibrancy, poignancy, lyricism and humor wonderfully. This is a captivating and entertaining reading of one of Prokofiev's most thrilling scores.

David Russell is a very polished performer who brings an air of sophistication to his playing. He's a technically stunning guitarist as well as being musically remarkable. And he always chooses wonderful pieces to record and always brings something special to his performances. It's not surprising that he won a Grammy in 2005 for one of his albums. His latest should certainly be in contention for a Grammy this year.

Russell's "Air on a G String" is a wonderful collection of works that includes his own transcriptions of works by J.S Bach and Francois Couperin, but it also contains lute music by a couple of now forgotten composers, Jacques de Saint-Luc and Silvius Leopold Weiss.

The major works on the CD is Bach's Partita in A minor, BWV 1013, originally written for flute solo, and Saint-Luc's Suite in D major ("La Prise de Gaeta") for lute. Russell exhibits masterful guitar playing in both works — it's in turn virtuosic and wonderfully nuanced and lyrical.

The same holds true for the other pieces as well — a set of pieces by Weiss and Couperin, and a delightful transcription of Bach's famous "Air on a G String" from his Orchestral Suite No. 3 BWV 1068.

Throughout this album, Russell displays his artistry to the fullest. This is an exceptional album by a remarkable and insightful performer.

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