Pavarotti and Friends. Luciano Pavarotti, Sting, Brian May, Bob Geldof and others (Decca). ALL-STAR charity concerts, usually recorded and video-taped for eventual multi-format release, have become commonplace over the past few years and the performances are seldom inspiring. Having said that, Pavarotti and Friends is a little different for several reasons. One is that the cast of characters and the choice of material is less predictable than usual. Another is that it is surprisingly good. Pavarotti has already made an impact on the pop charts with Nessun Dorma but he hasn't performed pop tunes with pop singers. The concert on this disc, recorded in Modena in September last year, pre-dates his troubles hitting those high notes, his lip-synching row with the BBC, and last month's operation on his knee. It teams him with Sting, Italian popsters Zucchero and Lucio Dalla, and former Queen guitarist Brian May. The title is slightly misleading, and not merely because of doubts that Pavarotti's social connections with a motley crew that includes Bob Geldof, Mike Oldfield and Suzanne Vega can have pre-dated rehearsals for long. Large Luciano himself only appears on four of the 14 tracks. He's good when he's on though. The concert opens strictly on Pavarotti's turf with Cesar Franck's Panis Angelicus which he performs as a duet with Sting. That the latter agreed to attempt this was perhaps more foolhardy than brave, although he goes on to redeem himself with a fine brooding performance of It's Probably Me later in the show. Zucchero is up next and duets more impressively, first with Pavarotti on an operatic-sounding piece called Miserere apparently co-written with U2 singer Bono and then with Sting on their joint composition Muoio Per Te, before Pavarotti and Lucio Dalla take the stage with their tribute to Caruso. Most of the backing is orchestral, augmented with drums, electric guitars and electronic keyboards, with only one band performing with its own instrumental line-up. Fortunately it is the Neville Brothers who tear through a characteristically funky One More Day before Aaron Neville brings the house down with, of all things, Ave Maria. Other surprise highlights include Suzanne Vega's In Liverpool and Bob Geldof performing a jolly piece of 60s-style pop called Room 19. I'd have liked Brian May's Too Much Love Will Kill You better if the lyrics weren't a sort of patchwork quilt from other people's songs. Taking up space that could have been better used for other purposes are Mike Oldfield with the dreary Sentinel and Patricia Kaas with an accordion-drenched number showing why French popular music normally doesn't travel. Bringing proceedings to a dignified conclusion, Pavarotti reclaims the show with Verdi's La Donna E Mobile, on which Sting once again ill-advisedly attempts to take on the master at his own game. Not so much a marriage of classical and popular music as a cross-genre flirtation, the combination here is more harmonious than usual.