HANDEL: Preis der Tonkunst; SCHUBERT: Salve Regina, D. 386; MOZART: Exsultate, Jubilate, K. 165; Laudamus Te from Mass in C Minor, K. 427 – Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano/Saar Chamber Orchestra/Karl Ristenpart
HDTT HDCD179, 47:32 [CD-R, DVD-R of HQCD] ****:
Teresa Stich-Randall (1927-2007) constantly earned the trope “the white soprano” to describe her spare vibrato while she ascended the glorious heights of the coloratura range. Arturo Toscanini characterized her voice as “the find of the century.” I first fell under her spell upon auditioning her long-deleted Epic LP of the Mahler 4th with Willem van Otterloo. This HDTT remastered disc derives from a 1966 Westminster 4-track tape which originated from the Club Francaise du Disque, France. It was in France for many years that Stich-Randall made a musical home at Aix-en-Provence, 1953-1972, working with the esteemed Hans Rosbaud in a wide range of opera, particularly from Mozart.
The recitativo-aria in English by Handel is highly sectionalized piece on the conceit of a fond farewell and reconciliation, the tessitura highly embellished with long-held notes, melismas, chromatic runs, leaps, bird-like flurries, and swooping trills. She works with the dependable accompanist Karl Ristenpart (1900-1967), who led his hand-picked Saar Chamber Orchestra from its inception in 1953 until his untimely death in Portugal in 1967. Schubert’s setting of the Gregorian chant, Hail, Queen of Heaven evinces the influence of Mozart and the Viennese sacred music tradition. The orchestral accompaniment creates a romantically-set motet, both archaic and intimately sculpted at once, with some effective text-painting at “we send up our sighs,” “the valley of tears,” and “our exile.” Stich-Randall’s “O clement” (merciful Mother of God), projects especial poignancy. The sheer detached quality of her notes, completely freed from earthly cares, has me wondering what she might add to the Faure Requiem.
Mozart’s perennial 1773 motet Exsultate jubilate, recall, was written for Venanzio Rauzzini, his favorite castrato. In more ways than one, the piece resembles a “concerto” for high voice and orchestra. If any female voice can capture the “disinterested” vocal quality of a pure high C, it is Stich-Randall. Her natural litheness in opera in Vienna earned her, like Hilde Gueden, the title of Kammersaengerin, official court-singer. The execution of Mozart’s (and Handel’s) brisk trills and staggered half-steps has to be heard to be appreciated. Ristenpart utilizes an organ in the first movement vocal cadenza to recreate the church-motet style in earnest. The Andante, “Fulget amica dies,” proceeds with a suave gravity, not dragging but illumined by Stich-Randall and orchestra in transparent, lulling harmony. Predating Beethoven for a direct move to the last movement, we sail with Stich-Randall to the beloved “Alleluia,” whose opening note from the orchestra has magic thrust. Stinging pert attacks from the Saar strings accompany Stich-Randall’s thrilling aerobics, a fluency that defies anything Newton has to say about the forces of Nature.
To end, the Laudamus Te from the Gloria section of the 1783 Great Mass in C Minor, an aerial demonstration in music to parallel what Hopkins achieves in his poem, “The Windhover.” The scales Stich-Randall runs for us, the repeated notes, the swift passing trills and turns, have only Fernando Valenti’s harpsichord pyrotechnics as a rival for seamless proficiency. The words Agnus Dei might be porous, they fill with so much airy delight. Impeccable in every note.
— Gary Lemco