HAYDN: The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross (original orchestral version)

by | Jan 21, 2010 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross (original orchestral version)

Performers: Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall, conductor
Directed by Rhodri Huw
Studio: Alia Vox 9868 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]
Video: 16:9 color widescreen
Audio: PCM Stereo
All Regions
Extras: Reflections on the Seven Last Words – Raimon Panikkar; The Seven Words of Man – Jose Saramango; Interview with Jordi Savall; Interview with Fr. Guillermo D. Leonsegul
Length: 68 minutes (concert)
Rating: *****

Haydn’s Seven Last words of Christ on the Cross does not get the press it really deserves; its eight movements, all slow and comprehensively involved, don’t pack the same surface punch as his quartets and symphonies. In fact, it is one of his greatest works, written for a setting that demands a meditative formality, yet also needing to keep worshippers awake.

This DVD returns to the scene of Haydn’s initial crime, the church of Santa Cueva de Cadiz in Spain. Savall has chosen to make a meaningful production out of it, adding obligatory commentary on each of the “words” (actually verses) between the musical sections. There are several ways to program this disc, including saving the commentary for later if you wish. While not actually a church service, every care has been taken to recreate as far as possible the atmosphere and feeling of the original performance with the judicious use of lighting and dramatic timing, as well as a video made that interjects itself in a most tasteful manner to heighten the dramatic and pietistic tension. It is, in a word, gorgeously conceived, and as a performance itself leaps to the top of recommended versions. With the scenery added (and the opportunity to see Jordi Savall conduct) the interest is magnified, but Savall never gets in the way of the music either aurally or visually. One comes away from this splendid production feeling like one has never heard this piece in quite the same way, and indeed, all others will probably pale in comparison to it.

Haydn made three versions of this work—the first (the one here, for orchestra), chorus and orchestra (done on his second visit to London, but using pietist words instead of the original Latin), and a late version for string quartet that seems curiously unfinished (it is often supplemented by performers). There is also a less-played piano version that Haydn approved though it was done by his publisher. It’s going to be tough to hear any of these versions except the first after this recording. Savall’s players perform beautifully, giving real meaning to these oft-slumbering notes, and setting quite a bar for future comers. Definitely recommended!

— Steven Ritter


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