Haydn - The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross
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Label: Harmonia Mundi
Cat No: HMC902162
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 10th March 2014
WorksThe Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross, op.51 (string quartet)
Haydn wrote his 'Seven Last Words' in 1786/87 for Good Friday devotions in Cádiz. Although the custom in Cádiz was to perform an oratorio, Haydn's brief was in fact to write seven movements for orchestra alone, each creating a mood inspired by one of the sayings attributed to the dying Christ.
He chose to frame them with a further slow movement called ‘Introduzione’ and a concluding Presto entitled ‘Il Terremoto’, intended to depict the earthquake that occurred after Christ’s death (Matthew 27:51).
This purely instrumental ‘oratorio’, consisting of seven contemplative slow movements, was by no means an easy task, but the outcome was a work of sublime nobility, which in Haydn’s own transcription for string quartet has enjoyed unfailing popularity ever since.
It is entirely appropriate that this recording of Haydn’s 'Seven Last Words of Christ' should be performed by the Cuarteto Casals, for the work represents one of the few surviving traces of the composer’s flourishing relationship with Spain, where his music seems quickly to have become as popular as it was in France and Britain.
- Abel Tomàs Realp [1st violin]
- Vera Martínez Mehner [2nd violin]
- Jonathan Brown [viola]
- Arnau Tomàs Realp [cello]
The Europadisc Review
Originally composed in 1786-87 for orchestral performance during Holy Week observances at the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva in Cádiz, Haydn's Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross was one of the composer's most widely performed works during his lifetime. Framed by a slow introduction and a concluding Terremoto (Earthquake) movement, each of the seven single-movement Sonatas was performed after a reading and homily on one of the traditional 'Seven Last Words' uttered by Christ from the Cross. They are thus themselves meditations, and Haydn himself later declared that 'it was no easy task to compose seven adagios lasting ten minutes each, and to have them succeed one another without fatiguing the listener…' Yet succeed he most certainly did, with a succession of movements that, although in predominantly slow tempi and sonata-form in structure, are sufficiently contrasted in key, mood and invention that they hold the listener in transfixed attention throughout.
This is some of Haydn's very greatest music, and it is no wonder that he later returned to the work to make of it a genuine 'oratorio' with the addition of choir and soloists. In the mean time, however, he had also arranged the Seven Last Words for string quartet – his preferred medium for reaching the domestic audience, and a sort of late-18th-century equivalent of today's compact disc or download. Although the orchestral and choral versions of this work were highly successful in their day, over time it is the quartet version that has easily proved the most durable, offering a more powerfully intimate window onto the Passiontide events and the emotions they arouse.
There have been many fine recordings of this music over the years, but this new one from the Cuarteto Casals is certainly one of the best. They play on modern instruments but with period sensibilities: minimal vibrato, discretely and tastefully deployed, and with perfectly chosen speeds that keep the overall momentum flowing without ever disrupting the meditative mood. Above all, they use the natural resonance of their instruments and finely-judged articulation to bring this music vividly to life. There are few other performances out there that so successfully combine beauty of tone with such expressive care and sensitivity. Try the fifth Sonata ('I thirst') to hear what this means in practice: a delicate pizzicato accompaniment that evokes the dryness of Christ's mouth, the fragile legato violin line articulating the words themselves, and the forte outbursts expressing the pain of the situation and the listener's response. Each movement is full of such beautifully observed detail, while the cumulative impact is overwhelming, ending in a whirlwind account of the closing 'Earthquake' movement that knocks spots off its rivals.
With high standards of presentation, and a wonderfully detailed yet evocative recording from the Teldex Studio in Berlin, this is an outstanding disc that demands to be heard, and it's another feather in the cap of the remarkable Cuarteto Casals.
1The Seven Last Words of Christ - Introduzione
2The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata I
3The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata II
4The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata III
5The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata IV
6The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata V
7The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata VI
8The Seven Last Words of Christ - Sonata VII
9The Seven Last Words of Christ - Terremoto
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