On this recording of The Seven Words, the Rosamunde String Quartet offers a compelling rendition of one of Haydn's most complex compositions. The Seven Words was originally composed for a full orchestra as a series of seven adagios, which were meant to be interludes during a congregation's meditations on the last seven words of Christ on the Cross. Haydn struggled with a way to compose seven connected pieces of music that were solemn and yet varied enough to keep the listener from getting bored. The members of the Rosamunde Quartet are technically brilliant as they demonstrate the composer's solutions to this musical puzzle. Even though the tempo is slow, they never let the music become ponderous or oppressive. But to Haydn, The Seven Words was more than just an aural conundrum. He felt the composition was perhaps his most sacred work, and the quartet plays this music with reverence for the composer's spiritual intentions. This is a profound piece of music, and the Rosamunde does it justice on each of its many levels.
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.