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W. A. Mozart: Soave sia il vento

No other moment in music comes as close to the ideal of perfection as this trio. The undulating string sounds suggest the soft undulating waves that takes us into the imaginary journey of this delightful farce. The combination of the vocal lines with the different harmonizations is what makes this music so striking. Particularly moving are the last statements of “ai nostri desir”, where on the word “desir” (desire) a dissonant chord of utmost beauty conveys a sense of longing and profound nostalgia. “May the elements respond kindly to our desires” said perhaps with tears in our eyes.

Leontyne Price’s Christmas album

Song of the Day is off for the holidays, but we are re-posting a week of holiday songs from NYFOS Managing Director Charles McKay. This post first ran on December 19, 2016.

I’m back for a week of holiday music.  First up, Leontyne Price with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan from 1960 (it was released Jan 1, 1961).  The CD is titled Christmas.

It is Price at her prime and her best and in the hands of Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic it is a magical collaboration rarely heard.  The recording captures that gorgeous shimmering lush sound that she was famous for and here, performing these beautiful carols and hymns, it is simply one of the loveliest Christmas recordings (or recordings period) ever produced.

The two selections I offer are Mozart’s “Alleluia” and Adams’ “O Holy Night.”  I expect you will not want to listen to any other recording of “O Holy Night” after listening to this.

“Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165


“O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adams

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Der Hölle Rache

Blame it all on my mom, my love of opera and vocal music. And on Rita Streich. For a birthday celebration in my youth Mom persuaded Dad to drive our family into NYC from Long Island to a performance of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte [The Magic Flute] by the Salzburg Marionette Theater. To my youthful eyes and ears, those two-foot high marionettes came to life, transporting me to a magic world of glorious music and remarkable singing as they acted to the 1953 DG recording led by Ferenc Fricsay with a cast that included a youthful Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Papageno.

It was, however, the coloratura glories of Rita Stretch as the Queen of the Night that grabbed me by the throat and elicited a “Wow! Music can sound like that?!?” In her famous second act aria “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen” (often referred to as “The Queen of the Night’s Aria,” although she has another beautiful aria in act one), the Queen puts a knife into the hand of her daughter, Pamina, threatening to deny and curse her if Pamina doesn’t kill Sarastro, the Queen’s rival.

The aria begins: “The vengeance of Hell boils in my heart, Death and despair flame about me …” And flame it does, boiling over with piercing emotion and an astonishingly stratospheric F6 above top C, that both scared me and thrilled me at that first performance. An interesting footnote: a recording of the aria by Edda Moser, with the Bavarian State Opera led by Wolfgang Sawallisch, is included in a collection of music from Earth on the Voyager 1 satellite … stratospheric singing now way beyond our stratosphere.

Although I’ve enjoyed many Queens of the Night in live performance and recordings in the 50+ years since that first one, my heart still belongs to Rita Streich, the German-Russian coloratura soprano renowned throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, who introduced me to the glories of the human voice. Thank you, Rita. Thank you, Mom.

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