Although it is played on a period instrument, no one is arguing that this recording of Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ is historically authentic. The work, exceptionally in Haydn's output, exists in multiple versions, for orchestra, string quartet, chorus, and keyboard (either fortepiano or harpsichord). But surely Haydn did not have the instrument heard here, the rare tangent piano, in his head. This was, speaking roughly, a piano-harpsichord hybrid that never really found its footing in the late 18th century. As long as listeners are down with the idea of a fairly speculative recording, the effect of the tangent piano in this particular work is electrifying. Lubimov gets the best of both worlds: the intimacy of the keyboard version and the dynamic contrasts and timbral shadings of the orchestral original. The keyboard transcription is not by Haydn himself but was made in his own time, and he approved it. Lubimov works from this, tweaking it and adding contrasts that break up the seven consecutive slow movements and give them an extraordinarily expressive quality.
When Franz Joseph Haydn composed his string quartet version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (one of several versions he either wrote or authorized), he incorporated Jesus' final sentences in the score under their associated melodies, though they were not intended to be sung. In practice, a priest would intone the last words before each of the sonatas, which were played for the congregation as slow meditations. Spanish composer José Peris Lacasa, a student of Carl Orff and Nadia Boulanger, has worked the combination of words and music into a performing version for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, and this release by Susanne Kelling and the Henschel Quartet is the premiere recording…
This series of seven Easter meditations includes some of Haydn’s most intense and inventive music, evoking the struggle of Christ’s final hours and the solemnity of the church’s Holy Week services. This live performance of The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross juxtaposes Haydn’s original instrumental movements with their later choral versions, offering a multi-layered experience of the work.
The Emerson Quartet might be said to bring the best of both worlds, combining the Classical purity of the Mosaiques with the Lindsay's Romantic warmth. Technically speaking theses players are very much in a class of their own and DG's recording (detailed, yet gently cushioned) is also in the luxury class.
In 1785, the Cathedral of Cádiz commissioned Haydn to write seven orchestral interludes, to be performed during Holy Week services between the bishop's recitation of Jesus' seven last words, plus an introduction and an epilogue depicting the earthquake after His death. Though Haydn later complained about the difficulty of composing eight consecutive slow movements that would not "fatigue the listener," but "produce the deepest impression…in his soul," he succeeded magnificently. The work is surely one of his great masterpieces. Originally scored for full orchestra, he arranged it for string quartet (the most familiar version), for piano, and subsequently also for soloists, chorus and orchestra on a text by Baron van Swieten. This recording, part of the Emerson's Haydn Project, is wonderful. Though the texture is full and often contrapuntal, the first violin generally carries the melody. …Edith Eisler