Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Franz Joseph Haydn, Laurence Equilbey, Ruth Sandhoff|
Haydn: The Seven Last Words of Christ
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A Rarely Heard Haydn Choral Masterpiece
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 06/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Haydn wrote four versions of 'The Seven Last Words of Christ.' It started out in 1786 as a purely orchestral piece written on commission from the Canon of Cadiz. It was a set of seven adagios to be played as meditations on the 'seven last words' (always called that, but in actuality the seven last sentences uttered by Christ) as read from the pulpit during Passiontide services. This version became popular and to capitalize on that Haydn then rescored the work and published it for string quartet so it could be more widely played (and sold). He also made a keyboard arrangement of the work. Then, in 1795 in Passau he happened to hear a cantata arrangement by Joseph Friebert, a provincial Kapellmeister who had set the Biblical words for chorus accompanied by the orchestral music. Haydn obtained a copy of that arrangement -- 'I thought I could have handled the vocal parts better myself' -- and took it home to Vienna to make his own arrangement for voices and orchestra. That is what we hear on this CD.
The choral-orchestral version differs from the instrument-only versions in that Haydn wrote orchestral introductions to each of the 'seven words' and added an instrumental movement between words IV and V; this striking 'Introduzione' is scored for winds alone. He also added words -- not from the New Testament but revised from a text by Karl Wilhelm Ramler by Haydn's friend and patron, Baron von Swieten -- to the dramatic final movement, 'Il terremoto' ('The earth moves').
By far the most commonly performed version of the 'Seven Last Words' is that for string quartet. This is probably because it requires fewer forces than any of the other versions besides the not very compelling keyboard version. I am familiar with all the versions except for the original orchestral-only version which I believe has been recorded by Riccardo Muti and the Berlin Philharmonic but which I've never run across. I've come to the belief that this vocal-orchestral version is the most effective musically and dramatically of the three versions I know.
This recorded performance is superior on all counts. Accentus is an extraordinarily fine French chorus that usually sings a cappella works. They are notable for their suavity and impeccable tuning under their founder and leader, Laurence Equibey, who herself studied under the doyen of northern European choral directors, the Swede Eric Ericson. I've never heard anything by the chorus that wasn't absolutely top-drawer. Orchestral support (and it's more than that) is provided by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, an original instruments group with a particularly piquant sound. I'm not generally a big fan of original instrument performances but this group brings something special to the sound of the recording, a slightly peppery yet rounded sound that spices things up a bit.
Add to that the excellent cast of soloists -- Sandrine Piau, Ruth Sandhoff, Robert Getchell and Harry van der Kamp -- who sing in precisely the manner the score calls for: their voices arise from the choral sound, as if they were members of the chorus, not big-time soloists standing in the spotlight. The sound recording emphasizes this approach. Like all the recordings of Accentus I've heard, recorded sound is a big part of the effect, enough so that the Naïve's sound producer, Jean-Pierre Loisil, and engineer, Pierre-Antoine Signoret, deserve special mention.
This is a very special disc, one that I can recommend unreservedly.
Dexter Tay | 10/09/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Rarely has the emotional power and intensity of Mozart's Requiem been matched or even surpassed - not until Haydn's The Seven Last Words of Christ.
It is however of no less curiousity that surrounds this masterpiece of Haydn's towering genius; this version with chorus and soloists was by no means the first version of the work, which contrary to convention, began as a purely instrumental piece (and not choral) for liturgical purposes.
The genius of Haydn here is how uniquely different the results turn out to be when the music is put into different mediums and settings and the varying intensity of experience evoked with each setting.
The choral or oratorio version, the first dating from 1795, is probably the most powerful version; Haydn made some changes to the instrumentation and the score and of course adapted the voices, after hearing a lesser composer than himself arranged his original version for the chorus on his way back to Vienna. Also added was a wrenching Introduzione for winds and brass, which features a contrabassoon scored in his works for the first time - somewhat imitating the pipe organ - to great effect.
The unique and somewhat 'archaic' a capella addition before the main verses adds yet another dimension of pathos to the already sublime score.
For a truly unique 'twist' and appreciation of Haydn's skill with manipulating the orchestra to create special textural effects, listen all the way till the end of the work that culminates in an interestingly and dramatically effective scored "Il Terremoto" - strangely reminiscent of "Dies Irae" in Mozart's and Verdi's Requiems, yet with surprises in choral harmonization and orchestration that one would not quite expect.
I have no resevations in recommending the Berlin Akademie für Alte Musik (together with the Accentus chorus and soloists) as the only version of the work, which I think, scores perfection in all aspects. Simply to put it, there's no need to look for the same version of the work performed by another orchestra, chorus or set of soloists.
Listeners already familiar with Mozart's Requiem would take great spiritual solace in this masterstroke of Haydn's late years.