Haydn: The Seven Last Words from the Cross

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: The Seven Last Words from the Cross
PERFORMER: Lindsay String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 853 DDD
Haydn’s Op. 71 quartets, written between his two visits to London, are the first works of their kind to have been designed from theoutset for public performance, and their widely spaced sonorities are striking. The music is as wonderfully inventive as the contemporaneous London symphonies, and the Chilingirians do it proud. Only occasionally do they sound a little careful and over-refined: the pervasive octave leaps of Op. 71/1’s opening movement lack forcefulness; and the rustic closing theme in the same work’s finale could do with more swagger.

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The two Op. 77 quartets were the last Haydn completed. As he wrote them Beethoven was working on his first set of string quartets, dedicated to the same aristocratic patron. It is almost as though the continuity of the great quartet tradition had been preordained. The Franz Schubert Quartet plays this music (plus the later, unfinished, Quartet Op. 103) with obvious affection, though without quite plumbing its depths or catching its wit. The recording is distant and unfocused.

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The Seven Last Words, beautiful as they are, do not belong among the canon of Haydn’s great quartets. They began life as orchestral pieces, and eight Adagios followed by an earthquake do not make for ideal listening. The Lindsay Quartet has often played these pieces interwoven with sermons, as Haydn intended. Hearing the music on its own is a demanding experience, but a deeply moving one – particularly when it is so fervently played. Misha Donat