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Haydn - The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the cross. Copyright (c) 2000 Claves Records

Such was the work's popular esteem that Haydn arranged it in 1787 for string quartet and for piano. Recommending it to William Forster in London, he claimed that 'it creates the most profound impression on even the most inexperienced listener', and that there should be 'a bit of a pause after each Sonata so that one can contemplate the following text'. But Haydn did not anticipate the procedure of the Claves CD, in which the sonatas are interspersed with Gregorian responsories. When the quartet version came out in London, it was said to be 'calculated for Sunday concerts', not necessarily in church. The Carmina Quartet plays admirably from the outset contrasting stern solemnity with heartfelt pleading [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:00]. There is much subtlety throughout the performance, with nice variation of vibrato; and even the 'earthquake' has unexpected and formidable power [listen -- track 16, 0:00-1:28]. The rub is in the choice of responsories. Before Sonata 1 we should be meditating on the crucifixion text, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'. Instead the Gregorian chant is in the garden of Gethsemane some time before Christ's arrest. The second responsory treats of the earthquake which Haydn will not reach for the best part of a further hour, while the fourth has Jesus expire with only three of the 'words' uttered. There is, however, nothing wrong with the singing of the Schola Romana under Roman Bannwart [listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:01].

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Copyright © 18 November 2000 Robert Anderson, London, UK

 

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