Milton Moore: Happy birthday, Wolfie!

In "Just Listen," The Day's music writers share their playlists of favorite recordings and invite you to share your comments and your playlists. Each blog includes a Spotify playlist of the music in play. You can stream the music, then add your comments in this blog. Spotify is a free music service for your computer or wireless device.

Happy birthday, Wolfie!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 258 years ago today, and what more can we say about one of the greatest and most admired musicians ever? So much music to enjoy: 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, 36 violin sonatas, 23 string quartets, and, oh those operas! If Mozart had written only operas or only piano concertos or only symphonies, he would still be beloved today.

So on Mozart's birthday, I will simply offer a playlist (embedded at the bottom of this blog) of my favorite Mozart, some predictable, some probably not.

First up is Mozart's Piano Quartet (piano, violin, viola and cello) in E Flat, K. 493. I first heard this on the radio at a very sad time for me, and this music so untroubled, so sane and so optimistic was just the tonic I needed. It became an audio icon I have never let go. The second movement larghetto is so smooth and delicious, it's like a Linder cream melting in your mouth.

The fourth track is the final movement from Mozart's Symphony No. 4o in G Minor. His next (and last) Mozart symphony, No. 41, "The Jupiter," gets all the accolades, for good reason, but I enjoy the G Minor much more. The little fugato (heard first at 4:00) gets me excited every time, and woe unto the conductor who skips the repeat! My favorite recording of this is John Elliot Gardiner's fast and furious recording, but this recording by the Cleveland baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire is very fine.

Next are the three movements from his Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola (think of it as a concerto for two instruments), as flawless and tuneful a major work as any ever written. The opening material always reminds me of a train chugging out of a station and gathering steam, and the give-and-take between violin and viola is a delight to watch on stage. The slow movement, positioned between two playful allegros, is one of Mozart's longest and most heartfelt.

If Mozart had written nothing but his last four operas, those alone would have made him live on forever. The next track is the climax of "Don Giovanni," as hair-raising a scene as ever written. Here, Don Giovanni's bad choices catch up with him as the ghost of the man he murdered in the first act. An act later, a drunken Don Giovanni has stopped to mock the man's statue and invite him over for dinner. When the statue arrives at the door, the dread increases until the final chorus of demons (heard at 4:20) arrives to drag him down to hell … whew!

And I end with just one aria from my favorite recording of my favorite opera of all time: "Le Nozze di Figaro." This 1984 recording led by Georg Solti does full justice to the opera's wit and beauty. This aria, "Dove sono," is one of the opera's loveliest, and on this recording, you hear why it was soprano Kiri Te Kanawa's best known role.

So much Mozart! Are any of these on your favorites list?

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